SmartVMC, the massive 100-acre development at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre located at Highways 7 and 400 near Toronto, is the crown jewel of SmartCentres REIT’s evolution ‘from shopping centres to city centres’. Redevelopment in the area will result in the creation of a vibrant new downtown Vaughan which will be a centre of culture, recreation, commerce, open spaces, and urban life.
The area was first identified for intensification and development in 2006 with the announcement of the extension of the TTC Subway Line 1 from Toronto. Construction on the TTC’s Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station was completed in 2017.
“Having the subway extend right onto our property was a game-changer in terms of the growth potential for the area. When the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Subway station was announced, SmartCentres and the City of Vaughan collectively saw an opportunity to create something truly special – a world-class city centre from the ground up,” said Paula Bustard, Executive Vice-President of Development for SmartCentres REIT.
“The potential on our 100 acres of land is unprecedented. Diverse transit and accessibility options make the location exceptional, and it’s all being built on mostly vacant land which is allowing us to develop an urban core right out of the gate.”
In addition to the subway, the site is also serviced by a rapid transit bus system as well as the new York Regional bus terminal which is connected by underground tunnel to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Subway station. The bus terminal creates complete transit connectivity between North GTA neighbourhoods and Toronto’s downtown core.
The subway ride from the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre to Toronto’s Union Station takes less than 45 minutes.
“The subway extension, rapid transit access and bus terminal represent a public transit and structural investment of approximately $4 billion on these lands,” said Bustard. “Additionally, we maintain excellent vehicular access via Highway 400 with close proximity to Highways 407 and 401.”
Province of Ontario Identifies Vaughan Metropolitan Centre as Urban Growth Centre
The area had been identified for many years by the Province of Ontario as an urban growth centre and now that the transit infrastructure is in place, the area is primed for high density intensification.
As the transit hub was being planned, SmartCentres set out to develop a master-planned community unlike anything in the area. At the heart of SmartVMC there will be a 9-acre central park that will stretch across the property, designed by world-renowned landscape architect Claude Cormier.
“We’ve planned the area around the park,” said Bustard. “The intention is to make the area feel like a park with buildings around it, rather than the inverse.” Groundbreaking for the first phase of the park is set to occur in spring 2021.
The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre’s new skyline is already well underway, with a proposed 20-million-square feet of new development planned for the area in coming years.
Construction of KPMG Tower, the first new building erected in SmartVMC, was completed in 2017. This 15-storey, Class-A, 355,000-square-foot office tower is fully leased to some of the world’s best-known companies such as KPMG, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, and Marc Anthony.
Until KPMG Tower was built, Class-A office towers were uncommon/unconventional in Vaughan. SmartCentres was looking for the kind of tenants who wouldn’t otherwise be located in a typical suburban office towers.
“World-class cities have world-class office towers. Class-A towers legitimize our vision of a world class downtown. With thousands of people already working in SmartVMC’s office towers, plus daily subway commuters, you will really feel the energy of a metropolitan centre,” added Bustard.
SmartCentres opened a second office tower, continuing its strategy of opening office towers to generate buzz and energy in the area, with the recently completed PwC-YMCA building. The building not only features offices for PwC but also a 120,000-square-foot YMCA and brand-new 20,000-square-foot Vaughan Public Library, set to open in the coming months. These spaces will serve as community hubs right in the centre of Vaughan’s new downtown at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.
“Development in the area is centred around great architecture and a meaningful mix of uses throughout the site. Following the development of offices and community-centric amenities, our next builds were three, 55-storey SmartLiving residential towers called ‘Transit City,’” said Bustard.
“We sold all 1,750 condominium units very quickly. People are excited.” New residents recently began occupancy in the first two towers.
Not only are new residents moving into the area, but new retail tenants are as well. Toronto-based Balzac’s Coffee opened last month, and more acclaimed retail and renowned dining is expected to open in the area as development continues.
“We have over 3.5 million square feet built and/or under construction. The site is dynamic and is transforming day-by-day.” SmartCentres’ steady growth in SmartVMC has continued with groundbreaking ceremonies for three more SmartLiving residential towers: two fully sold-out, condominium towers containing 1,000 units; and one purpose-built, over 360-unit rental tower, for the first of its kind in the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.
The three buildings will be centred around a one-acre park, also designed by Claude Cormier.
SmartCentres’ Relationship with Walmart Helped Shape the SmartVMC Development in Vaughan
SmartCentres’ longstanding relationship with Walmart has played a role in the SmartVMC development as well. As the plans for the new city centre progressed, Bustard said that SmartCentres worked in close partnership with Walmart to relocate the existing Walmart Supercentre from its current location, adjacent to the future 9-acre park, to a nearby location with improved highway visibility and access.
“We have an excellent relationship with Walmart and worked very closely and collaboratively with them to identify an optimal new location to build a state-of-the-art expanded Walmart Supercentre that will accommodate the growing needs of the neighbourhood,” said Bustard
The all-new, 140,000-square-foot Walmart Supercentre has strong visibility from Highway 400. The new store features a first-of-its-kind-in-Canada, 10,000-square-foot drive-through eCommerce pick up point. This new Walmart opened October 22. The move frees up space for additional residential intensification in the heart of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.
SmartCentres has plans to use the space as a vibrant community hub with festivals, concerts, art, world-class dining, and all the things one can expect to find in a major urban centre.
In January 2020, SmartVMC’s Transit Square, a public square the size of Toronto’s Dundas Square welcomed the community, including over 180 youth sports teams, and NHL superstars for Rogers Hometown Hockey.
“We are excited to see the spaces we are building used by the local community,” said Bustard.
“We are proud to develop SmartVMC in our backyard, next to our home office, and see the community take full advantage of the area. Over the next few years, the area will become a bustling urban downtown, with 10,000 people coming and going every day.”