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Hookers to High Rises: The Evolution of the Etobicoke Waterfront
Kevin Ali: "This neighbourhood has now reached a tipping point"

image: eaudusoleil.empirecommunities.com

In all great cities, there are regions that have sordid pasts. The Etobicoke waterfront is one such region. 

What has now given way to glass towers, was once a place of rent-by-the-hour motels, bankrupt buildings, and derelict factories.  And while the forces of gentrification have sculpted the area into something distant from its former self, the soul of the area remains intact.  This is a working class neighbourhood. 

Ed Timermanis has witnessed the evolution of this area over the decades. Growing up here in the 1950s, he has seen its many faces.  In addition, Timermanis has spent over 10 years selling and leasing condos along the Etobicoke waterfront. In that time, he has amassed an intimate knowledge shared by few others.  Not only can he instinctively recite the history of the area, but he can also dish out the dirt on its condos.

“Marina Del Rey was built in 1988 but then went bankrupt in 1990,” Timermanis explains as I sit down to chat with him about the area and its development. “This is evident as in Phase 2 of the complex, the north tower has three elevators, while the south tower has only two. Most people don’t know this but, when the complex went into receivership, the next guy who bought it cheaped out.  This is the reason why the south tower only has two elevators.”

These are the kinds of fascinating tidbits you get when you work with a realtor who is a true specialist in an area.  And while many people complain about the exorbitant commissions that realtors earn, you quickly come to realize that specialists like Timermanis earn every penny.  Everything he does for his clients is analytical and methodical, and built on a foundation of focused knowledge. 

It is because of this knowledge that he does not blindly accept his neighbourhood as it is.

Currently with a population of around 6,000 people, the Etobicoke waterfront is expected to more than double in size over the next five years.  This will bring the population up to 14,000. 

“It will create a lot of issues with the volume of traffic that is going to move through here”, observes Timermanis.

This is a concern because the Etobicoke waterfront is still not a very walkable neighbourhood.  Yes, there are beautiful parks and stunning trails.  But there are also only two restaurants, limited shopping, and no grocery stores.  In other words, to live here, you need a car.

Public transit is also somewhat lacking, which compounds this problem.  There is streetcar access, but the journey downtown takes the better part of 45 minutes.  The TTC now runs a shuttle bus, which travels directly into the core, but the frequency of this service could be increased.

“If you put a GO stop anywhere between Grand Harbour, Parklawn, and Palace Pier, that would make this area infinitely more attractive,” states Timermanis.

That GO stop may be inevitable as the area continues to develop at such a rapid clip.  And while some of that development feels redundant, there are also projects that hold much promise. 

Westlake Encore is one such project.  What makes this development so exciting is the 60,000 square feet of retail space that it will bring to the area.  Future tenants will include Metro supermarket, Shoppers Drug Mart, and TD Canada Trust – as well as space for cafes, restaurants, and shops.  This will go a long way in helping people ditch their dependency on cars.

Another area of interest is the 27 acres of land that the Mr. Christie’s Bakery currently sits on.  With the factory set to close (and south Etobicoke losing 550 jobs) there has been much debate over how best to use that land.  Developers have already submitted plans to the city showing a concept for a staggering 27 condo towers.  There are others, however, who have a more productive vision for this space.

“What would really do well for this area would be if we put a full shopping centre there, combined with offices. This would bring us more on par with the Distillery District or Liberty Village, combining employment and shopping”, suggests Timermanis.

This is clearly a better use than saturating the market with another couple dozen condo towers. 

That market, as of late, has slowed significantly.  Condo sales on the Etobicoke waterfront are down roughly 42% from the same time last year (though the rental market remains balanced).  This has been caused, in part, by a recent clampdown on mortgage rules locking some first time buyers out of the market.  And while many people find market dips like these scary, there are also opportunities to be had.

“I think there are bargains everywhere.  You have to buy the right unit, with the right size, or the right view, and you will make money”, says Timermanis.

Two buildings in particular that Timermanis highlights are the south tower of the Waterford (2095 Lake Shore Boulevard West) and the Explorer Condominiums (58 Marine Parade Drive).  These buildings offer generous suite sizes, spectacular lake and city views, and opportunities to find great value.

This value cannot be found in the new build market.  In this area, new builds are consistently priced between $150 – $200 per square foot greater than resale units.  For a neighbourhood driven by affordability, developers are going to need to get realistic if they expect to move their inventory.

Not quite urban, but not quite suburban either, the Etobicoke waterfront walks an interesting line.  Gone are the days of hookers and seedy motels.  This neighbourhood has now reached a tipping point. For it to thrive, it must continue to develop with an eye to the future.  This means building larger units, encouraging more retail, and laying the infrastructure for world-class transport.  When this is accomplished, the Etobicoke waterfront will finally achieve its potential. 

It is a potential that Ed Timermanis sees each day in his neighbourhood.  

____

Kevin Ali is a Toronto-based real estate broker and the founder of Fresh Space. Follow him on Twitter @FreshSpaceCo.

For more, follow us on Twitter at @TorontoStandard and subscribe to our newsletter.

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