New Mirvish-Gehry plan for Toronto’s King St. W unveiled

WATCH ABOVE: The new Mirvish-Gehry plan saves some cherished Toronto landmarks. Mark McAllister reports. 

TORONTO – There is renewed hope for theatre mogul David Mirvish’s plan to build Frank Gehry-designed towers on King St. West.

After months of (at times) heated debate over the project, collaboration between a city working group and Mirvish’s group has resulted in consensus between both sides.

A brand new design for the Mirvish+Gehry project was unveiled Tuesday, which features two (rather than three) condo towers and preserves heritage buildings that would have been demolished to make way for the development.

City staff said while the project is still large and will have a significant impact on the city, they believe it will be a positive impact.

“I will be recommending this project and thrilled to do so,” said Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, on Tuesday.

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Mirvish said the new plan satisfies the original goal of creating “great iconic architecture that makes people look at Toronto and say we’re one of the great cities to come and visit and see.”

But the newest design, he thinks, produces a better result.

World-renowned architect Frank Gehry started from scratch with the latest design.

WATCH: David Mirvish talks about the new Frank Gehry-designed buildings on King St. W

The new plan addresses a number of concerns city staff had with the original project, including the height of the residential towers, the overall density of the project and the demolition of heritage buildings – including Mirvish’s own Princess of Wales theatre.

Now, two residential towers – 92 and 82 storeys respectively – will stand on King St.  The towers are taller than originally planned, but more narrow, reducing the overall scale of the project by about 600 units.

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“Yes we have tall buildings but we often mistake linking together height with magnitude,” said Keesmaat. “In fact the scale of the project has been reduced by 30 per cent.”

At the centre of the Mirvish+Gehry plan is the focus on making the neighbourhood at King and John St. a cultural corridor.

Like the original plan, the new design includes space for art exhibitions and OCAD University.

Originally, Mirvish intended to build a 60,000-square-foot public art gallery – the new plan will feature 9,200-square-feet art space, large enough Mirvish says to exhibit a single major show at a time.

The warehouses slated for demolition will be retained as will the Princess of Wales theatre.

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Mirvish said he’s happy his theatre will remain on King St.

“The hardest part [originally] was to give up the Princess of Wales because I spent so much of my life building it,” he said.
“So that was the sacrifice I was making in order to achieve the best project I could. [Now] I have an even better project and still have my theatre, who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?”

Keesmaat said the collaboration was an exciting process.

She said key aspects of the new proposal included narrower towers that would cast smaller shadows, an improved pedestrian realm and the preservation of the heritage buildings.

“We are in a position now where the project is substantially in conformance with our city planning objectives,” said Keesmaat.

Last year, meetings between the Mirvish team and the city planning department ended in disagreement – the city staff wanted the towers decreased in height and avoid the demolition of warehouses on the block.

The Mirvish team rejected the suggested changes, stating they weren’t willing to compromise their vision:

“We set out to give Toronto an iconic landmark, which says to the world that where we live and play is as important as where we work. It is not our intention to have these buildings disappear into the skyline.”

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Mirvish said he would take the plan to the Ontario Municipal Board for approval. However, a working group was created in December – chaired by former councillor Adam Vaughan – to reach a compromise on the plan and avoid a showdown with the OMB.

Mirvish praised Vaughan on Tuesday for organizing the working group saying, “it gave us a chance to hear not only the rules and the needs of building a constantly moving, changing environment for the planning department but also other parts of the community – their concerns about cars, traffic, all sorts of functionality.”

With city staff on board, a few hurdles still remain for the project, but Mirvish doesn’t think convincing city council will be a battle.

“I think that most of the politician are ambitious for the city to be a great place and will recognize the value of the project to the city,” he said.

Mirvish said they will hold public meetings and city council will look at the plan in July. He’s hoping he’ll have enough buy-in to move forward with a site plan approval by September.

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