Union Station Retail to Anchor Canada’s Financial Core

  (Great Hall at Union Station, Photo: Wikipedia) 

(Great Hall at Union Station, Photo: Wikipedia) 

By Craig Patterson

Toronto’s historic Union Station is transforming into a world-class commuter and retail destination. It’s already the busiest transit centre in the country, even surpassing Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, in terms of annual visitors. Union Station’s retail component is seeing an overhaul with plans for more than 100 retail spaces contained within a significant heritage structure that in many ways is the heart of the city. 

Beauleigh Retail Consultants has been working in partnership with Osmington to create a retail mix at Union Station that will not only be compelling to visitors and commuters, but also to the immediate area which is seeing an incredible population explosion in new residential towers. Some new towers east of Yonge will be nearly 100 storeys tall, in an area that will only get busier as everything comes together. 

Over the past several years, Union Station has been under construction — the heritage complex is being restored, and retail is being added in order to serve the busy area. This will be a big year for Union Station, as retailers begin to open their doors. "Front Street Promenade" is considered to be Union Station’s ‘main street’ as tenants will be skewed towards local retailers, bringing a local vibe and street flair. The goal is to convey to visitors to the station a ‘sense of Toronto’ at Union, reflecting unique offerings throughout the city.  Several retail spaces in the Front Street Promenade were recently unveiled, housing an innovative grouping of local retailers and restaurants. Included are new tenants such as Danish Pastry House, Naked Beauty Bar, Peace Collective, Pilot Coffee, and CXBO Chocolate, all of which opened retail spaces at Union Station in December. Being a busy commuter hub, restaurants are also being added — Amano and Union Chicken both opened in December in the "York Street Promenade", as well, and both are already packed daily, particularly for lunch time.  

  (Click for interactive Google Map) 

(Click for interactive Google Map) 

  (Photo: Wikipedia)

(Photo: Wikipedia)

  (Peace Collective and Naked Beauty boutiques are among the newest to open)  

(Peace Collective and Naked Beauty boutiques are among the newest to open)  

  (Photo: Craig Patterson)

(Photo: Craig Patterson)

More tenants will be opening over the next few months in Union Station’s Front Street Promenade, including Forno Cultura, Greenhouse Juice, Calii Love, and The Detox Market. Beer hall/sausage concept WVRST will open this summer, in the York Street Promenade. Retailers will continue to open in various phases and neighbourhoods of Union Station in the coming months and into next year, according to Beauleigh. 

Union Station is a remarkable transit hub, serving more than 250,000 weekday passengers via commuter Metrolinx’s GO Trains, GO busses, and UP Express to Pearson Airport, as well as a busy TTC subway station, VIA Rail, and the PATH (indoor walkway system connecting buildings). The Air Canada Centre sports facility is connected to Union Station to the south, serving fans of hockey, basketball, and various musical and entertainment-related performances and events. 

Union Station already gets more than 63 million annual visitors — that’s 13 million more than CF Toronto Eaton Centre, which is considered to be North America’s busiest shopping centre, by far. With a significantly projected increase in employment and residents in the area, Union Station’s visitor numbers are expected to spike even more. 

  (Lower Level Retail ) 

(Lower Level Retail ) 

  (Street Level Retail Plan) 

(Street Level Retail Plan) 

  (Photo: Craig Patterson)

(Photo: Craig Patterson)

(All renderings above, of the new food hall, are courtesy of GH+A Design

Office towers employing thousands surround Union Station and during rush hour, the area is densely packed (as is the case for game nights, as well). The Toronto Convention Centre is nearby as is the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and various other attractions — in many respects, Union Station is a significant city destination and it will be getting considerably busier as more office buildings are built nearby, more people utilize public transit, and thousands more people move into the area, which has gone from being sleepy to vibrant in less than a decade. 

Thousands more people will be moving into the area over the next several years, with a forest of skyscrapers set to begin construction south of Union Station, and east of Yonge Street. Many of the new neighbourhoods will be connected directly to Union Station via the city’s indoor pedestrian PATH system, and Union Station anticipates becoming something of a neighbourhood retail and social hub for those living nearby. Already, thousands have moved into new condominium towers in the adjacent South Core area, with thousands more workers housed in new office towers that have been sprouting up in the area. 

One significant project that is expected to bring between 15,000 and 20,000 more employees into Toronto's downtown core is the new CIBC Square, being developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge. There will be two towers: a tower at 81 Bay Street will be completed in 2020 along with a new park, and a second tower is set to be completed by 2023.

  (CIBC Square will bring thousands of new workers into the core. Rendering: Ivanhoé Cambridge) 

(CIBC Square will bring thousands of new workers into the core. Rendering: Ivanhoé Cambridge) 

Some are even saying that, given all of the office construction happening adjacent to Union Station, that the area is replacing the King Street and Bay Street intersection as being the heart of Canada’s crossroads. While that might be up for debate, numbers indicate that office rents near Union Station are now just as high as those a few blocks north at the heart of the prestigious King and Bay financial crossroads. 

A new food court is set to be unveiled towards the end of the first quarter of 2018, housing 11 vendors that will be a mix of local as well as national and international concepts. Popular big brands such as Tim Hortons, McDonalds and Pizza Pizza will join some leading local vendors such as Paramount Fine Foods, Loaded Pierogi, Scaccia, Roywoods, Bangkok Buri and others. 

  (Pilot coffee in the great hall. image:  William Williamson Inc. )

(Pilot coffee in the great hall. image: William Williamson Inc.)

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 4.10.25 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 4.10.38 PM.png

Union Station’s updated ‘Bay Street Promenade’ will eventually house more national retailers. Given its positioning on Bay Street, this part of Union Station will feature ‘more popular’ brands — the reasoning is that more commuters will be time pressed passing through this area, giving them less time to explore and discover the local brands housed elsewhere in Union Station, according to Beauleigh. 

The Great Hall, considered to be one of Canada’s most iconic ‘urban rooms’, will act as an anchor to the centre — at the corner of Front Street and Bay Streets will be a signature restaurant, boasting a contemporary interior and a heritage facade.

Being next to sporting and entertainment facilities such as the Air Canada Centre, Union Station’s tenant mix will also target those attending events by offering an expansive food and beverage offering. 

The multi-phase, multi-year Union Station transformation will ultimately end up anchoring one of the most vibrant urban areas in North America, as Toronto’s Central Business District solidifies its position as a world-class centre. More phases are planned at Union Station, and we’ll be following up and reporting on new developments periodically. 

  (The area around Union Station is seeing an incredible amount of development -- and some proposed towers will be even taller than as represented in this scale model. Photo: City of Toronto) 

(The area around Union Station is seeing an incredible amount of development -- and some proposed towers will be even taller than as represented in this scale model. Photo: City of Toronto) 

Craig+Headshot (1).png

Craig Patterson, now based in Toronto, is the founder and Editor-in-Chief Retail Insider. He's also a retail and real estate consultant, retail tour guide and public speaker. 

Follow him on Twitter @RetailInsider_, LinkedIn at Craig Patterson, or email him at: craig@retail-insider.com.

SUBSCRIBE to Retail Insider's Daily E-News for Free:

* indicates required