By Craig Patterson
Last week landlord Oxford Properties announced that it would be building a $3.5-billion mixed-use mega-project in downtown Toronto that will become one of Canada’s biggest real estate projects. This week, Retail Insider spoke with two executives from Oxford Properties to discuss details on the 200,000 square foot retail component, which is expected to become a destination in an area that is seeing a remarkable transformation.
Called ‘Union Park’, the 4.3-million square foot complex on four acres will be just north of Toronto’s Rogers Centre and the CN Tower, and across the street from CBC’s Broadcast Centre, Simcoe Place and the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Included at Union Park will be two office towers (58 and 48 stories), about 800 rental apartments in two buildings (54 and 44 stories), and three acres of public space including an urban park over the Union Station rail corridor spanning between Blue Jays Way and the John Street footbridge. Union Park will transform both the city skyline as well as the experience at street level.
As part of the Union Park project, Oxford Properties will add about 200,000 square feet of retail space spanning multiple levels, which will house a variety of commercial tenants. Experiential retail will be key to the project which could include a new food hall for Toronto’s downtown core which will be a draw for visitors and locals.
Construction is expected to commence in 2023 depending on city approvals.
Retail space at Union Park will include a lower level corridor that will connect to Toronto’s PATH pedestrian network, which will be expanded as part of the new project. Carlo Timpano, Vice President of Development at Oxford Properties, said that the retail mix on that level will be “PATH oriented” with a mix of tenants geared towards those utilizing the pedestrian network which is said to be the largest underground shopping complex in the world. Targeted tenants will include food and beverage operators as well as other localized retail offerings with a convenience and lifestyle focus.
Upstairs at the street level will be dramatic retail spaces with 20-foot clear ceiling heights, according to Mr. Timpano, which will activate Front Street with a variety of uses. A glass-enclosed ’winter garden’ will provide further activation as well as access to more retail space that will face toward the newly built park, while also creating north-south connectivity within the massive Union Park complex.
Sherif Masood, Vice President of Retail Asset Management at Oxford Properties, described the proposed retail mix at Union Park as being focused on food and beverage, entertainment and ‘lifestyle’ with a particular focus on food and beverage to act as a draw. Tenants could include QSR tenants, lifestyle concepts such as spas and beauty, banks, full-sized restaurants and even a food hall is a possibility as the landlord strategizes and begins discussions with potential tenants. Mr. Masood said that there is the opportunity for flagship restaurants to locate in space facing the new park, with opportunities for large patios.
An upper-level food hall could become a significant component of Union Park. The food hall could include outdoor space as well as windows to provide ample natural light. A grocery tenant is also a possibility for Union Park, and the landlord will examine various options including a grocery-anchored food hall or a more traditional standalone grocery concept.
Food halls are good for business, according to Mr. Masood, noting that the opening of Eataly at Boston’s Prudential Centre led to its landlord being able to command higher lease rates for office tenants above and even nearby. Food halls also pull in visitors from further away, he noted, as evidenced with the Chef’s Assembly Hall in downtown Toronto as well as two food halls in Oxford’s Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket (which opened last year) as well as at Square One in Mississauga, which opened in the spring.
Entertainment is also expected to be an important part of Union Park. The area is already home to attractions such as the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and Cineplex-owned ‘The Rec Room’ which opened in the summer of 2017. Union Park’s ‘winter garden’ could also become activated at various times of the year to host events for the Toronto International Film Festival, Pride, and Toronto Fashion Week, for example.
Mr. Masood noted that with about 3.5 million square feet of space, Union Park will bring a level of scale that will “bring a truly successful mixed-use community” that will be an added draw for the area. Those working in the new office towers on the site as well as nearby will have even more options for dining and shopping, while new residents to the area will further add to Union Park’s commercial viability. The area surrounding Union Park is seeing a development boom that includes thousands of new condominium units as well as several large new office towers.
Oxford Properties owns the four-acre Union Park site as well as about seven acres immediately to the east that currently houses the Metro Toronto Convention Centre as well as an office building and a hotel. While Oxford will focus on Union Park’s proposed four-acre property, there’s the possibility that an expansion eastward could be a possibility at some point in the future.
Union Park will be less than 300 metres from ‘The Well’, which will be a mixed use project that will include about 420,000 square feet of retail space. Both developments will create a critical mass as densification continues in the city’s core.
In 2012, Oxford Properties proposed a significantly larger development called Oxford Place that could have included a new hotel, residential towers, office towers, a redeveloped convention facility and a casino. Spanning the entire 11 acres on the south side of Front Street between Simcoe Street and Blue Jays Way, Oxford Place would have included approximately one million square feet of retail space, which could have become a competitor to CF Toronto Eaton Centre, given the size. Toronto City Council voted against the downtown casino and plans to develop Oxford Place were put on hold indefinitely.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: firstname.lastname@example.org