A new mixed-use neighbourhood is rising at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre
The people are coming. Just north of the Vaughan IKEA store near Highway 407 and Highway 400, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is finally being prepared for widescale human occupation.
Next year, an old cinema complex and retail strip will be demolished to make way for a new mixed-use neighbourhood called Festival being developed by QuadReal Property Group and Toronto builder Menkes.
Festival, which is being built in phases, will ultimately house about 4,600 people. There are already 4,300 people living in Vaughan’s new downtown but eventually the city says the area will be home to 63,352 residents.
The new neighbourhood will have all the amenities of Toronto’s prized residential pockets with homes, a retail promenade with shops and restaurants, offices, access to 45 acres of parks, and 17 acres of trails — a community hub, sports fields and an elementary school.
The project is part of a shift to downtown style development outside of Toronto, said Jared Menkes, executive vice-president of residential highrise development for the 65-year-old firm.
“My concentration for Menkes for the last 15 years really has been the explosion of the urban centre as a theme and we focused on 416,” he said. “As Toronto continues to get built out, we’re also seeing a maturing of the 905.”
Sixty-five per cent of the new GTA condo launches in the third quarter of this year were in 905 municipalities, according to market research firm Urbanation.
Other 905-area communities are also seeing their downtowns rising.
There are eight more towers with 3,800 units under construction in Mississauga’s downtown. Another 18 buildings with 8,400 condos are in the development application stage.
Burlington has nine applications for 5,000 homes in its downtown and Burlington GO station neighbourhoods.
Festival is part of a 75-acre masterplanned community bounded on the north and south by Highway 7 and Highway 407, and connected by a signature linear park called Revel Park running east-west from Highway 400 on the west, Jane St. on the east.
The neighbourhood will be served by the TTC’s VMC and Highway 407 subway stops and York Region’s Viva bus rapid transit along Highway 7, a road the city says will be transformed into “a beautiful green street” for pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses.
QuadReal vice-president of development Jay Claggett calls Vaughan’s higher-order transit “the bones for a proper downtown.”
“We can’t make a downtown overnight but the important thing is making sure the key infrastructure is in place for it as it matures,” he said.
“What you’re now starting to see is the introduction of people. This area was never a residential area. This was an industrial, retail area. By starting to bring the residents in, that brings in the parkland, that brings in the schools.”
The City of Vaughan describes Festival’s public spaces as “an activated public realm that is beautiful and vibrant and would provide for social interaction.”
The first phase of Festival includes two condo towers, 59 and 48 storeys, with 1,300 one- and two-bedroom units, tentatively scheduled for occupancy in fall 2024. They are homes for downsizers and younger people who want to stay in the area where they grew up, said Menkes.
“People that are living in a highrise community are looking for amenities, whether that’s retail, office, amenities within the building. They’re looking for something that replaces their basement, their backyard. They’re looking for that local walking spot, that local park,” he said.
Claggett says the community’s parks are the kind of amenities that people need in a pandemic scenario.
“If somebody’s trapped in a highrise and they want to be out in a quiet spot to reflect — think of a ravine in downtown Toronto — there’s that element in the design,” he said. “If they want a more active outdoors like Waterfront Toronto, where you can have a more dynamic but still safe experience, there’s that element.”
QuadReal and Menkes have already begun construction of three midrise residential buildings and 262 townhomes in a neighbourhood called Mobilio at the south end of the precinct. The second phase of towns has recently launched for sale and the project is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2024.
There is no affordable housing component in Festival, said Menkes.
“Vaughan is more affordable than downtown Toronto,” he said. “That’s why we’ve had this explosion of interest. There’s not many places you can get a townhouse on a subway line.”
Festival condos will be about the same size as many downtown condos at 452 to 698 square feet and will be priced in the $400,000 range. Mobilio townhomes are priced from the $700,000s.
Affordability and the search for more space in the city are among the reasons the regional downtowns are increasingly popular, said Pauline Lierman, Urbanation director of market research.
In a report this week, the company found that condos launching in the 905 in the third quarter were selling for $915 per square foot on average compared to $1,275 per square foot in Toronto.
Developers are finding larger parcels of land in the 905 and some investor buyers can see the opportunity in those markets, said Lierman.
“You’ve got all these 905 markets that really want to develop their downtown areas and some of them are out of lowrise residential land.”
Correction – Nov. 3, 2020: This article was edited from a previous version that misspelled the name of Revel Park, the park that will be running east-west from Highway 400 on the west, Jane St. on the east.