Rejuvenating the waterfront, one big box store at a time

The land where the Toronto Film Studios sits is one step closer to being taken over by big box retail. Big box store developer Mitch Goldhar now owns a 50% stake in the east-end property, reports the Toronto Star. The deal made the front page of today’s business section (and not, surprisingly enough, the front page of the entire paper).

Says Tony Wong of the Star, “The downtown land purchase is significant because there has never been a large-scale power centre in Toronto’s core.”

Goldhar promises he’ll be sensitive to the surrounding neighbourhood. “If anything this is my home, too, and it would demand much more of my personal attention.”

That this land was left vulnerable to the perils of large-scale retail (along with its large-scale parking lots and low-wage labour) is the major reason the councillor for the area, Paula Fetcher, received a thumbs down for development in Spacing’s current issue. The prospect of replacing the fleeing film studios with a mixed-use development was voted down in council. Fletcher helped lead the fight fearing 14-story condo towers would take over the area were it not zoned for employment only. It’s mind-boggling she doesn’t see stores like Wal-Mart as big, if not bigger, a threat.

Architect Joe Lobko — who supports a mixed-use community, complete with homes, stores, business, and neighbourhood streets — spoke candidly of the danger of big box stores making their way downtown when I interviewed him last spring.

“There’s a pattern across the city. This isn’t the only place. Laird and Eglinton — it’s a large industrial area that’s rapidly becoming large scale retail. The old stock yards in the west end — formerly industrial, now large scale retail,” he said. “You’re getting minimum wage mcjobs. It’s bullshit. They talk the talk, but in reality, you either get all residential, or nothing happens and you get shopping. Very quickly, [the film studios] will become that. It could happen just like that. The scale is perfect.”

Image Colin McConnell, Toronto Star


  1. Eastern between Carlaw and Leslie is not “downtown” by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps to Spacers, everything east of St. George St. just blurs into “downtown.”

  2. Says Tony Wong of the Star, “The downtown land purchase is significant because there has never been a large-scale power centre in Toronto’s core.”

    isn’t there a Loblaws literally a block away?

  3. Well, that’s fine, but this week I received notice from the city that Council had adopted an amendment to the official plan prohibiting “power centres” (sic) in the area bounded by Eastern, Woodfield (approximately), Lake Shore, and the DVP. This may or may not be effective at stopping a big-box store, which can be built as of right.

    Perhaps the city shouldn’t have gotten up Ken Ferguson’s nose quite so much. It will be interesting to read the decision of the OMB on the Foundry District redevelopment, a term your posting curiously fails to use.

  4. >isn’t there a Loblaws literally a block away?

    Yes. there’s a big Canadian Tire being built on the Lakeshore at Carlaw now too. The difference is, a power centre is made of multiple big box outlet stores sharing the same massive parking lot.

    I should have been clearer in my post. As the Star points out, Goldhar does not just bring Wal-Mart to cities. He owns SmartCentres Inc., the largest developer of power centres in Canada.

  5. I Google Mapped 629 Eastern Ave and it doesn’t seem to be much more downtown than a ‘power center’ on part of the old Hippodrome lands in Montreal, on Decarie.

    Perhaps the difference is that Decarie has already suffered from the effects of the expressway (our version of the Spadina Expressway, actually built) and people felt there was less to defend…

  6. I think this quote from the article is incredibly telling:

    Goldhar promises he’ll be sensitive to the
    surrounding neighbourhood. “If anything this is my
    home, too, and it would demand much more of my
    personal attention.”

    Does that mean that, of the “170 shopping centres, 118 anchored by Wal-mart” that Goldhar’s company owns, none demanded “more of [his] personal attention” because they weren’t located in his “home”?

    Too bad for those 170 other “surrounding neighbourhoods,” that weren’t worthy of Goldhar’s the sensitive, personal attention.

  7. >this week I received notice from the city that Council had adopted an amendment to the official plan prohibiting “power centres” (sic) in the area bounded by Eastern, Woodfield (approximately), Lake Shore, and the DVP.

    I think the city should amend the official plan to prohibit “power centres” (sic) everywhere in Toronto.

  8. I think the problem with the Warden Power Centre was that it wasn’t really a power centre as a decrepit old mall. Calling it the Warden Power Centre was just a gimmick the mall owners used when the anchor tenant (The Bay) moved out.

    Just up the street is a power centre at Warden and Eglinton, and more and more big box stores are invading that area.

  9. that should be “it wasn’t really a power centre *so much as it was* a decrepit old mall.”

  10. It is indeed hard to believe that anybody would see a power centre as being better than a mixed use development, 14 storey buildings or no. The poer centre at Eglinton and Laird is truly an unsightly blemish on the city, and I agree these things ought to be banned from the city limits.

    Lise Rochon wrote an insightful article a year or so back in the Globe about the lost opportunity for “Lower Leslieville?” (Studio District?) after the Gardiner East was ripped down – this is just another example of that.

  11. thick> I think it was more power-ish than Mall-ish though (but certainly decrepit). Though maybe for the sake of definitions, attached and un-attached is the defining characteristic.

    As for your first comment about “downtown,” that was from the Star’s quote, not us. Some of us even live in east-downtown. I think it works for shorthand, for what we’re talking about here — whenever i’m in the corners of Toronto, somewhere around Malvern, or Weston or etc, the size of this city is suddenly clear, and anything south of eglinton or west of vic park becomes downtown.

  12. Toronto planning at its finest! Just how long can anybody look at the results without wanting to hang themselves?

    For essential background on the area, go to and the references therein; Joe Clark has done an amazing job of trying to keep track of the mess.

  13. Yes! More shopping is what is needed for the all the new condos popping up around there. Maybe they can extend the Harbourfront LRT there too!

  14. Eastern Avenue is in dire need of ” re-vitalization ” and although there is a significant amount of opposition to the current development as proposed by Smart! Centres Inc., what if we came up with a compromise in suggesting alternatives and working together with the developers instead?

    For example:

    A) The proposed development to be re-configured ensuring all vehicular access to and from the development is via Lakeshore Boulevard only. This configuration should divert most of the vehicular traffic away from Eastern Avenue and surrounding side streets and neighborhoods.

    B) Narrow Eastern Avenue from 4 lanes to 2 lanes, from Broadview Avenue to Leslie Street, to discourage speeding up and down Eastern Avenue ” to and from downtown and beyond.

    C) The development facing Eastern Avenue, to be set back enough to allow for wider sidewalks, pedestrian entrances, outdoor benches, landscaped with pathways etc. creating a park-like setting in front of the entire length of the development. (No parking of any kind allowed on the Eastern Avenue side of the proposed development)

    D) Installation of several Pedestrian Cross-Walks for quick and easy access to Queen Street East, to explore the many unique and one of a kind stores, galleries and restaurants in Leslieville.

    E) The facade of the development that faces Eastern Avenue must reflect the architectural and Victorian character and heritage of the neighborhood.


  15. Following is a copy of my letter to editor of Etc…News published in the December 2007 issue:

    Smart! Centres in Leslieville is Smart!

    For too many years, Eastern Avenue was, and still is, a ‘ quick secondary access route ‘ for the many motorists driving either to the Beaches or to Downtown Toronto. And it wasn’t that long ago that scrap yards were among the businesses adorning Eastern Avenue, along with more than a fair share of hazardous industries spewing toxic emissions into the air we breathed, and contaminating our garden soil.

    This was the scenario in 1983. Over the last 26 years I’ ve witnessed and welcomed many changes, in Leslieville as a whole and on Eastern Avenue. Most of the scrap yards are gone, as well as the aforementioned health hazards.

    Now let’s fast forward to 2007! We are on the threshold of witnessing the revitalization of Eastern Avenue as we have never seen before: a transformation that would take it from a speedway to a pedestrian-friendly city street, calming traffic to two lanes, with stores, pathways, benches, landscaping and quick access crossings to Queen Street East to explore shopping, dining and our unique galleries.

    Smart! Centres chose Eastern Avenue! They developed it, designed it and presented a plan to the community as an exciting retail centre that will not only revitalize but bring positive changes to Leslieville residents and businesses.

    I have heard concerns that a Wal-Mart ( not yet confirmed ) is to be one of their anchor stores and that it will kill the business along Queen Street East. Rather than taking business away, I see this as an opportunity for more consumers to come and shop at our stores. We already see increased pedestrian traffic on Queen Street since the opening of Canadian Tire at Leslie and Lake Shore.

    Recently I went to Wal-Mart at Dufferin Mall and, being a pleasant day, decided to take the subway to Bathurst station and walk to Dufferin. Along Bloor Street I stopped in many of the small independent stores offering everything from shoes and clothing to travel agencies, window treatments, hardware, restaurants and coffee shops etc.

    With respect to the increase of traffic clogging our streets, those of us that went to the presentation by Smart! Centres saw that most of the traffic is planned to enter/exit via Lake Shore Boulevard, thus diverting it away from Eastern Avenue.

    Rarely have I seen a business such as Smart!Centres to be as forthcoming and accessible or willing to listen, address and rectify concerns from the community.

    This is our opportunity! The time is now! It’s time to revitalize Eastern Avenue by working together with Smart! Centres and welcoming them to Leslieville. I cannot stress enough that if we let this slip through our fingers, it may be a long time, if ever, before we have the opportunity again.

    Peter Crawford, Sr.
    Logan Avenue
    December 2007

  16. I agree with Peter’s comments. The area bound by Carlaw, Eastern, Leslie and the Lakeshore is in need of sprucing up. The area looks really run down and dirty. The area along Queen Street looks great with many new shops and restuarants… It’s time to revitalize the south end. Leslieville is becoming a wonderful place to live !!

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