University Heights sets the bar for design excellence in North Toronto. SDG is proud to be a part of the design team
December 9, 2013 | by Michael Harris
Real Wealth Group of Companies is launching a new 8-storey, 180,000 sqft commercial development called University Heights in the heart of what will soon be a major new public transit hub at Keele Street and Finch Avenue. The building will comprise a pharmacy and retail space on the ground floor, a second floor mezzanine with a major medical lab, and other professional offices on the upper levels. Situated in proximity to three hospitals, three courthouses, the coming Finch West subway and LRT stations as well as York University; it is the perfect location for a developer with an eye to the future.
The University Heights project is a major step in Real Wealth’s evolution from strictly a wealth management firm to developer. "It’s a big move”, acknowledges Paulo Abate, Real Wealth Group’s Chief Executive Officer, who says it’s about finding the best ways to manage their client’s money. As Abate describes it, as the developer they can “take an active roll, put skin in the game in the developments, partner with the developer and monitor the project day to day”.
Rendering of medical facilities on second floor, image by Real Wealth Group
Mr. Abate leaves no doubt about how influential the coming public transit boom in the area was in the planning process. In fact, he calls it “the most compelling reason to locate the project there”. Abate says, "I can't think of another location that is benefiting from over $2 billion in investment in terms of the intersection that the project’s at. There’s only one other station that boasts multiple forms of transit and that's Union Station… it's got VIA Rail, the TTC and the GO bus. This will be the first where there will be LRT and the TTC subway and bus system”. He adds, "What you would have seen there if the subway wasn't coming would probably be just another strip plaza with a Shoppers Drug Mart, a bunch of parking and that’s it”.
Finch West Station Site Plan, image courtesy of TTC / Stevens Group Architects / Will Alsop
University Heights is being marketed as an office condo, making it something of a rarity in the Toronto market. Though a common model in the US, Mr. Abate explains that institutional investors such as pension funds and other public companies that specialize in acquiring and developing these kinds of assets tend to crowd out the average investor in Canada. He says, “It’s more typical to find commercial plazas whose individual units are offered for sale to the public or to end users. It is generally rare that you find an office building of this size, more than 2 or 3 storeys, that really caters to a professional office environment that is for sale to the public.” Mr. Abate points out that the proximity of hospitals and courthouses will make the development particularly appealing to medical and legal professionals who may appreciate the investment opportunity of owning their own space. He predicts that as new buildings come on stream in the area, whether they are offices or otherwise, these spaces are going to command more and more per square foot.
Real Wealth’s vision for the project, a distinctly urban approach to function and design, meshed well with what City of Toronto planning staff envision as an emerging urban area and major transportation hub. After interviewing a number of architectural firms, they partnered with ACK Architects. “We thought that they would bring the most creativity to the site and give us a fresh look for the area”, explains Abate. “We wanted to be inspiring to the area. Other developers have now come to the table and started acquiring land for development… so we’re certainly ahead of that curve, and we wanted this building to really contemplate the future and lead the design and aesthetic characteristics that we think would improve the area. We didn’t want the traditional looking building. The materials being used, the colours - are certainly going to make this the unique landmark.”
Exterior rendering of University Heights Professional Centre, image by Real Wealth Group
Rendering of mezzanine on second floor, image by Real Wealth Group
It’s this eye to the future that Abate underscores when talking about the University Heights project. “I think that with what’s going to happen with this area, it’s a tremendous investment opportunity; as I said, the best commercial investment opportunity in Toronto”. He backs up his claim with a convincing argument: “These are not pipe dreams… the tunneling for all the new stations is finished and these stations are coming on-line. I can’t think of another office building or office that’s boasting the type of investment that’s coming in from all layers of government and building this infrastructure”.
Paul Abate says that Real Wealth Group of Companies plan to continue to expand their portfolio of development projects in areas of the GTA where they see similar potential for growth and investment in public infrastructure. According to Abate, that infrastructure doesn't necessarily mean subways and LRTs. He describes a recently acquired commercial project near highway 404 in Aurora that will launch in the next couple of years. Although not “blessed with TTC or LRT”, he says it’s “on the doorstep of a major new 404 exit and entrance, or interchange, that’s being built in the next few years”.