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Toronto staff recommends scaled-down version of Mirvish, Gehry King St. plan

A proposed condo project by David Mirvish and Frank Gehry
A proposed condo project by David Mirvish and Frank Gehry. Heather Loney, Global News

Toronto’s planning department has made recommendations for the Mirvish+Gehry condo development proposed for King St. W.

In a staff report released late Tuesday, the recommendations include scaled-down condo towers and preserving three of the four heritage buildings that would have been demolished to make way for world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s design.

In a report, city staff expressed concerns over heritage conservation, as well as the overall density and scale of the development. The planning department is expected to present the report to city council this week.

Four buildings, including the Princess of Wales Theatre, would be demolished to make way for the complex.

READ MORE: Toronto the good – when ‘fitting in’ isn’t good enough

“Clearly, the proposed development has design and architecture that serve to evoke and inspire, as well as desirable cultural space and programs including an art gallery and future space for OCAD,” read the report.

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“However, there continues to be many outstanding concerns with the proposal’s lack of heritage conservation, retention of employment opportunities (especially in the cultural industries), building heights, overall density and concern that the overdevelopment of one site will reset scale once again in this area and exacerbate hard and soft infrastructure challenges for the rest of the precinct.”

The project includes three 80+ storey condo towers, plus two six-storey podiums open to the public. The city recommends that the three towers top out at 60, 55 and 50 storeys.

Theatre mogul David Mirvish said the design is bold, meant to reclaim the public realm and create a cultural hub at King and John.

READ MORE: Building a better Toronto means taking risks

The original Mirvish-Gehry proposal incorporates space for OCAD University, retail space and a 60,000 sq foot public art gallery that would house Mirvish’s private collection of contemporary art. Mirvish has said he also hopes that George Brown College will get involved, showcasing their culinary arts program.

Planning staff recommendations also ask for the design to incorporate space for a community centre, something identified as a top priority for the King-Spadina area at a public meeting in November.

“Over the past decade, significant new cultural space and amenities have been secured in the vicinity of King Spadina, including the new TIFF Lightbox, space for OCAD University and the ongoing planning for the John Street Cultural Corridor,” read the report.

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“A new multi-purpose community space could complement those cultural facilities and support the recreation and human service priorities needed in the area.”

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David Mirvish’s vision for the Gehry towers on King St. has been widely debated.

The city’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat has expressed numerous concerns about the density the plan involved and the strain some 3,000 new residents would put on transit and infrastructure in the already-stressed area.

READ MORE: Toronto’s chief planner says Mirvish-Gehry debate ‘far from over’

“I think if this project could get off the ground, it could be profoundly exciting for the city,” said Keesmaat in October.

However, “we have a density being proposed here that is nowhere near the density that we’ve ever seen anywhere else in the city.”

But Mirvish – along with supporters such as Toronto architecture critic Christopher Hume, various urban planners and business owners – is championing for Gehry’s original vision.

At an October Empire Club luncheon, Mirvish told the sold-out crowd Gehry’s dream for King St. isn’t just another condo tower for Toronto’s rapidly rising skyline. He argues it would take back the public realm, creating a space where Torontonians can live, shop, visit a gallery, right where they work.

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Mirvish calls this plan an opportunity to have Gehry – now 84 and considered by many to be the most important architect of his generation – transform a community in Toronto.

“What has happened with Frank Gehry anywhere he’s built, is that it has made the cities and the places he’s built better places,” said Mirvish. “Immediately, attention is given.”

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