Feature: Massive ‘The Well’ Development to Transform Western Section of Downtown Toronto [Interviews]

It’s not often that a single development poses the potential to impact a neighbourhood or district so dramatically that it completely changes the gravitational attraction within the area. And, just as seldom are these types of endeavours completed within a single phase of construction. Afterall, the magnitude of any project hoping to impose this kind of influence would be nearly inconceivable by any passive onlooker. As unlikely as it would seem, however, it’s exactly what’s currently coming to fruition at the site of The Well in Toronto – a development that’s set to become the city’s newest and grandest live, work, play community. It’s a project of such scale that it’s difficult to find a comparison exhibiting equivalent scope and vision anywhere. In fact, according to Alex Edmison, Senior Vice President at CBRE, The Well represents the single most exciting development project in Canadian history.
 
“The thing that you’ve got to immediately understand about The Well is the sheer scale of the project,” he asserts. “It’s a development that covers a massive area within the city. And, in conjunction with its size, the aspect of this undertaking that makes it so unique is the fact that the entirety of it is being built in one shot. Normally, projects of a similar size are constructed in a phased development. When people move in, they might be able to enjoy a coffee shop and a restaurant, but they have to wait until the rest of the community gets built out over the course of the next seven years to receive its full value. Because The Well is being developed within a single phase, residents will have access to a curated community with all amenities available to them on day one, as soon as the project reaches completion. It’s amazing to be a part of such an exciting development – something that will change the flow of the neighbourhood entirely, lending further to its vibrance and growth.”
 

The heart of Downtown West

A drawing of the retail concourse that will cut through the centre of the development.
The Well (Rendering: RioCan)

The Well, which is bordered by Spadina, Front and Wellington, is situated at the heart of the city’s most dynamic and energetic locales. Just minutes from Toronto’s Queen West, King West and the city’s Entertainment, Financial and Waterfront Districts, it’s a destination that regularly sees more than 7,100 pedestrians, 22,000 vehicles and 55,000 commuters pass through each day. With construction taking place on a massive 8-acre parcel of land, the project consists of seven towers that will accommodate 350,000 square feet of commercial retail offering, 1.2 million square feet of office capacity for an estimated 8,000 active workers, and 1.5 million square feet of residential space that includes 1,700 on-site condominiums and apartment units housing approximately 3,000 residents. The Well will also feature a world-class, 70,000 square-foot public food market offering an eclectic array of food and beverage options for residents and visitors to choose from. And, in order to welcome the traffic that is anticipated, an underground parking facility with 744 parking spaces, as well as valet options, will be available. It’s all part of what Edmison describes as the future ‘epicentre’ of the surrounding area, with an incredible retail assortment serving to entice and draw traffic.
 
“The Well is such a unique project,” he says. “As such, we know the retail mix needs to reflect that uniqueness and will be critical toward ensuring its overall success. So, we’ve been focused on securing unique tenants, many of which are locally grown and developed businesses offering concepts that are new to the market and only available at select few other locations. It’s a retail mix, including restaurants, fashion, fitness, entertainment and cool new experiential experiences, that’s going to ensure that The Well is a one-of-a-kind destination with an offering that just can’t be replicated elsewhere. And, because of the way the project’s been designed, there’s enough space available in the public realm to have activations like the hosting of events and concerts, art displays or anything else that will help bring the community and visitors to the area together. In many ways, this development shifts the gravity of the entire Downtown West area. Adding the kind of commercial real estate and offering that The Well will introduce is really reflective of the creation of a focal point for an incredibly vibrant community.”

 

Next level mixed-use

Edmison, who’s serving as advisor on the project with CBRE partner Arlin Markowitz, says that there are many deals with unique, first-class retailers that have either been completed or are in the works that will all deliver a breadth of retail offering. He goes on to explain that if a person who buys a condo on the property never wants to step off of it for the rest of their lives, they likely wouldn’t need to given everything that will be available to them as residents. He says further that the project, one that’s been developing for the last number of years in a blockbuster partnership between AlliedRioCan and CBRE, is taking the whole notion of mixed-use developments to the next level, underscored by the special contributions made by the players involved.
 
“Mixed-use developments are clearly the wave of the future,” he says. “It’s just common sense for a developer and the owner of an asset to provide all of these amenities in one location and community. It results in an incredible competitive advantage. To offer everything at the tips of people’s fingers – to give them a place to live, work and shop in a single area – enables residents to create efficiencies and sustainability within their daily lives. It’s a project that’s been brought to life through a lot of hard work from everyone involved. Each of the three components within the project – residential, office and retail – have benefitted from having world-class partners involved. And each, at different times, have helped drive it forward. From filling the need and demand for multi-family condominium and rental apartments in Toronto to meeting requirements for tech-driven office space. And, even after everything that we’ve been through with COVID, there’s still an extremely high demand for retail space. All three components are equally valuable. And, combined, they result in a really fascinating development and community.”
 

Changing the energy and flow

A drawing of the retail concourse that will cut through the centre of the development.
The Well (Rendering: RioCan)

With respect to opportunities around these spaces, it’s a development and community that is quickly filling up. In fact, Edmison shares that in addition to the retail deals that are being brokered, 93 percent, or a little over a million square feet of office space has already been leased, with Shopify – Canada’s leading multinational ecommerce company – anchoring The Well’s tech presence. In addition, more than 600 condominiums have already sold, representing 90 percent of the total available units. It’s encouraging progress that’s recognized by Jeff Ross, SVP Leasing & Tenant Construction at RioCan, who also sees the potential inherent in The Well to dramatically change the flow and energy within the Downtown West neighbourhood. However, he adds that it’s the way in which the development has been carefully and thoughtfully inserted into the area that serves as perhaps the most impressive aspect of the project.
 
“What I’m most proud of when considering the development of The Well and the future of the site is the way in which it’s been blended into Downtown West,” he says. “We weren’t interested in simply building an enclosed mall. We wanted to develop something that enhances the area and adds to the history and appeal that the neighbourhood is already known for. This can be seen in the hand-laid vintage-style redbrick that’s been used for the construction and creation of much of The Well’s base façade, mirroring the neighbourhood’s elegantly antiquated aesthetic, which is juxtaposed by a majestic steel and glass enclosure that stretches the entirety of The Well’s central corridor, running right through the middle of the development. It’s design, combined with the elements of residential, office and retail, will help create a centre of community for the surrounding area, tying together a number of loose condominiums within the Downtown West neighbourhood, providing them with a centre of core and purpose.”

 

Adapting to the future

In addition to considerations made concerning the physical appearance of The Well, Ross explains that there were also many architectural decisions made in order to incorporate sightlines that create connectivity between all three components of the project. Linking the retail, office and residential spaces helps to ensure than none of them sit in isolation, amalgamating them and bringing them together as one single mixed-use entity. He describes it as a “development with a little city sprouting from its centre”, likening the venture to some of the largest that the world has ever seen. However, one of the elements of The Well that helps differentiate it from most other projects similar in scope and scale, he says, is the deliberate strategy that’s been involved in planning the development from day one.
 
“From the very beginning, when the vision for The Well was developing, it was done so with the intention of building this project out with flexibility and adaptation concerning the future growth of the area in mind,” he explains. “When you build real estate, you end up creating a finite envelope. But it’s the ways in which you build the physicality of the space that allows for that flexibility. On the office side, we’ve made sure to include flex floors so tenants can expand as needed. The retail has been designed in such a way that ensures every unit is divisible and linked to appropriate shipping and receiving areas so they can easily and efficiently fill their stores with merchandise. With these things in mind, we’ve designed The Well to not only satisfy what we’re delivering today, but to allow for its seamless evolution amid the continued development of the surrounding area. This is a complex that will be standing 100 years from now. And we want to make sure that its success and vibrance are sustained well beyond that point.”

Strengthening Toronto’s profile

A drawing of the retail concourse that will cut through the centre of the development.
The Well (Rendering: RioCan)

It’s clear when speaking with the players involved that the development of The Well, which is set to open to residents, businesses and visitors in Spring 2023, is not only being built with flexibility and adaptation at the fore of their thinking, but with an intention to facilitate the future growth of the entire Downtown West neighbourhood. As Ross points out, RioCan will be conducting renewals of retail tenants decades from now and are anticipating a flourishing surrounding area to lend only to the enhancement of The Well. It’s a sentiment that’s shared by CBRE’s Edmison, who goes one step further to suggest that the potential impact of the development may extend far beyond the Downtown West neighbourhood, enhancing the reputation of the entire city.
 
“The whole idea behind The Well is that it will serve to draw traffic in from the surrounding area. But we also think it possesses the potential to bring people from all over the world. Downtown West is already a well-known neighbourhood in Toronto that’s been on the radar of tourists visiting the city for some time now. So, The Well isn’t creating this attraction. It’s simply enhancing it, increasing the gravitational pull to Downtown West and to the city in general, strengthening Toronto’s profile as a truly global destination. To be able to showcase the fact that we can create developments of this calibre in Toronto, elevating the idea of mixed-use, providing a textbook for the future creation of similar projects, is really a tremendous achievement and one that we’re all extremely proud of.”
 
Source: Retail Insider

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