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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

I am (not) lovin’ it

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Another one bites the dust. Not that the potential loss of a McDonald’s restaurant causes me any particular heartache, but this particular McDonald’s always tugs at my heartstrings. Across from the ROM just west of Avenue road sits (in my opinion) the nicest McDonalds around, and a fine piece of 1970s retail architecture.

During a closed-door session, city council voted to accept a (bargain) $3.38 million offer for the site from McDonald’s, who will in turn sell it to Kazakhstan-based developer Bazis International Inc. That’s the developing firm that is building the 80 storey condo at 1 Bloor Street East and already owns the property adjacent to McDonald’s. There are now plans in the works for a 100-meter condo tower to be built on the site (which will include a new McDonald’s restaurant).

McDonald’s has a cheap 99-year lease on the site paying, only $15,500 annually. The city hopes to up that amount to $195,000 once the deal goes through. Although this is prime real estate and a suitable site for a condo development, the loss of the McDonald’s building is a shame. The building isn’t a typical fast food restaurant. A gently sloping ramp brings you to the front door off the street between a curved wall and sunken garden under a metal and glass canopy, providing light to the basement seating area. Inside, the ramp continues up to the counter where a staircase leads to the upper floor. The building is stacked, providing views both up and down and making its tiny footprint seem immense. The seating areas’ windows frame the new ROM addition, adding a new dimension to the structure. The brown tiles have recently been painted black and red making the faà§ade seem slightly sinister, but this does not detract from its charm.

Inevitably the old must make way for (or accommodate) the new, but I would have wished to see this building preserved. Its design is unique and it is suitable for any number of retail purposes. It also has a human scale. I have doubts that its replacement will have as much going for it.

Photo by Greg M.



  1. how can they get 195,000/yr from McDonalds after the land is sold to the developer? Won’t McDonald’s be leasing from the developer’s property management company at that point?

  2. Sorry, that was an ugly building.

    Cant believe that 3.8 million was all they got.

  3. growing up, good memories at that mcdonalds… will miss it.

  4. Hamish: the $195 000/year is referring to the projected future tax revenue from the development.

  5. While I will never admit to eating at McDonald’s, those times I definitely haven’t, after class at U of T, were spent looking at the crystal being built from the top story window.

  6. Why on earth are they selling it to McDonalds at a bargain price when they know that McDonalds will just turn around and sell it to Bazis at market value?

    Why doesn’t the City cut out the middleman and just sell the land to Bazis directly, if that’s an acceptable end point to them?

  7. Speaking of McDonalds’ design, there are some interesting things cooking (bad pun, I know) with some franchisees’ attempts to go upmarket. The NY Times just did a nice slide show story on this renovated McDonalds in California:

    Would not mind seeing that at the base of a condo in Toronto…

  8. Best known as the McD’s where an inebriated Ashlee Simpson drunkenly insulted the black help, caught on tape in 2005. Pray for her.

  9. i can’t believe anyone on this particular website is upset that the mcdonald’s building on bloor will be replaced by a very tall and modern tower. the only shame here is that this site was not redeveloped sooner. the photos of this restaurant can convey all the interesting architectural elements without preserving this site’s deplorable use of space. we can argue about whether the city is getting a good or a bad deal, but please, redeveloping the mcdonald’s site is an excellent idea.

  10. The City can’t sell the land without McDonald’s waiving their lease and there is no way any financially prudent company would give up the sweetheart deal they got 30 years ago. Instead, the City is going to get the $3.8 million up front and then make exponentially more money over the next 66 years in property taxes than they would have through the lease (I understand the current rent to be about $15,000 and if new property tax revenue indeed equals $195,000 then that’s 13 times more revenue on an annual basis than the lease the City has had to this point).

    I don’t think anyone would suggest that this is an optimal situation but I’ve yet to hear a workable solution that sounds any better given the circumstances (just maintaining the lease under some time around 2070 would deprive the City of about $12 million plus annual increases in the mill rate). Plus, in selling it this way, the City maintains some leverage in what is developed on the property.

  11. Is there NO legal means by which the city can nullify such a lease?

    Would the city not be more prudent to allow the lease to come to term and then sell the property at full market value?

    Is there an active public list of simmilar “sweetheart” leases?

    Is this an issue that the city is planning on attacking aggressively?

    P.S. f- McDonald’s and f- free land for corporations.

  12. It’s not “free land for corporations”. It’s called a smart purchase made by a company that is as much about real estate as it is fast food. The issues about the term were already explained by the previous commenter. Let’s try to restrict further comments to the subject of this posting, which is the building’s design.

    By the way MKM, agree 100% with your comment. More tall buildings, please.

  13. Why must there be a McDonald’s in this spot, even when a new building is built? Such a deleterious place shouldn’t be allowed in the city, let alone there. Such a blight to the street, so close to the ROM like that; embarrassing, even.

  14. to suggest that mcdonald’s simply shouldn’t be allowed there, regardless of the zoning and their existing legal contract, is frighteningly short-sighted. should we just start invalidating property and real estate laws on an ad hoc basis? how undemocratic. i guess laws are only useful when they work in your favour, huh?

    as for the current incarnation, it’s a fairly interesting design from the outside, kind of reminiscent of the scotiabank plaza with set-back plaza under a girdered overhang. i like how it creates an encapsulated scene on the street. can’t say i’ve ever been inside tho.

  15. mkm> Yes, more tall buildings — but a lament for an interesting building is not out of place here. Thomas was fairly reasonable I think.

  16. While I wouldn’t go so far as to rally for it, I’d have to say that it is an interesting attempt at 70-style space-framed gaping-mawed glazed-tiled urban-minded architectural pretense on McDonalds’ part. Perhaps as interesting for its time as the recently-deceased nearby Art Moderne Pizza Hut was for its time–though given that particular time, maybe still a little too Ron Burgundy for its own good. (And boy, did that pretense result in a lot of wasted white-elephant space. But I wouldn’t mind knowing who designed it–staff architect, or some slumming noteworthy local?)

    For that matter, maybe we need a checklist of these “architectural” McDonalds from the 70s and 80s, alive or deceased: Bloor & Brunswick, Yonge & Grenville, Yonge near Roehampton, etc–one of the last of them being the “contextual” one where Staples is now on Yonge N of King.

    Ah, those days when in-city fast food restaurants were expansive, often multi-storey (with all sorts of perverse nooks and crannies for vagrants and drug dealers and sexual predators to hang out in) sitdown affairs rather than utilitarian quickie joints or food-court frontages…

  17. I’ve created a Facebook group to Save the Bloor/Avenue rd. McDonald’s! Join and help save this historic landmark.

  18. Unless someone far more lawyerly than me can get their hands on the lease and find an obscure loophole that the City’s own legal staff is unaware of, there is no way out of this deal. My understanding is that when the lease was first given out it was hard to convince people to develop properties on that section of Bloor St. So in a bid for enhanced economic development, the City set out to lure businesses with very low lease rates. The McDonald’s deal ended up in that 99 year lease we’re grappling with today.

    The broader question is whether incredibly long leases are a good idea because they continue to be used as a carrot that entices investment in parts of Toronto that would otherwise continue to go without (think mega film studios in the portlands and, eventually, Union Station).

  19. Though it looks interesting in the photo above, IRL walking by that McDonald’s is like passing a dementor. All the life gets sucked out of you as you pass the ‘hole with view of staircases’. OK, so maybe I’m overstating things a little, but I for one won’t miss it.

  20. First of all, the City has been screwed by a decision their precessors made in the 60s. There is no good way out of it, just less bad ones. However, it should be a warning on some of the files the City is handling now.

    Presumably the City will get 1% or so of the $3.38m as land transfer tax, plus 1% or so of the land transfer taxes on condos built on the site. They get increased property taxes from those condos over what McDs pay.

    They get increased density in downtown on the subway lines, and can probably screw Bazis for Section 37 money if they want to bust existing limits as at 1 Bloor, plus the patently overstretched city property management division has one less file to worry about given that thousands have likely already been spent on the rent review.

    Screw it, let’s just get this done. As for McDs – kids going to ROM like it. They shouldn’t, like I shouldn’t, but they do. If that’s what it takes to get them to the ROM…?

  21. Long term leases are the norm with governments who want any trouble”out of their hair” in their lifetime.The islanders got a 99 year lease as well and that wasn’t corporate.The city is stuck and who can you blame?Adam is correct.However it behoves the citizens of this province and city to be aware and stop the “snooze you loose” attitude.We can start now and make sure that our governments don’t continue to make these mistakes again.We should do everything to make our city people friendly and there isn’t anything friendly with that McDonalds.Now pass the fries, er I mean the salad!!!!

  22. Adam C-F: the leases themselves aren’t the problem. The 33-year review periods with no guaranteed minimum escalator are the problem.

  23. Unique, yes. Hideous, also yes. Some buildings are simply old.

    And that ramp absolutely is not “gently sloping.” Do you think it meets the 1:20 spec for wheelchair ramps? Get out your protractor.

  24. One thing I’d like to know is whether this news has yet trickled down to various gossip & snark sites, i.e. the impending demolition of the Mickey D’s where Ashlee had her Youtube meltdown.

    This isn’t just “local” (or “70s pop-vernacular architectural heritage”) news, you know.

  25. Mark: Fair point. Though it is the lease itself that’s the problem. It’s just that the number of years the lease lasts for isn’t necessarily its fatal flaw, the flaw is in the escalator clause, or lack thereof.

  26. The “gently slanting ramp” is a mean son-of-a-bitch in the winter.You can barely get up it, if it’s icy out. And PLEASE! Save the McDonalds????? It’s not a baby seal…

  27. I will admit that during my early provincial years, a McD’s like this — all weird, sloped and whatever — was one of those things that made Toronto different than….the provincial towns and their standard, provincial McD’s that I knew.

  28. Larger picture: do we need intensification to make this a livable city, one that won’t collapse if car commuting comes to an end? If so, does intensifying this area of Bloor, and area well served by transit and within easy walking distance of employment and other urban services and amenities, make sense? Assuming it does, does replacing this building serve the goal of intelligent, livable intensification?

    Everyone who lives in a city develops attractions to the urban fabric we knew years ago. We love the open spaces we remember, the buildings attached to moments in our past. It takes an effort of will to set these natural reactions in the larger context; in this case, the choice we have to make between intensifying the downtown and building on the moraine.

  29. I think the all talk about the lease is a bit off subject. Yes it was a stupid lease, but it’s over now. The real issue here is if this is actually a good piece of restaurant architecture. The restaurant employs an innovative use of space which may have been intended to handle large groups (school kids maybe?), the views to the ROM have only improved since its renovations and the sunken courtyard which is currently forlorn has landscaping and security issues which could easily be corrected.

    While I’m not a huge fan of McDonald’s, this restaurant represents a bold, innovative and increasingly rare example of a departure from the standard restaurant format and I for one will be sad to see this unique piece of 1970s ‘Ron Burgundy’ architecture destroyed.

  30. I can’t believe there will be a McDonald’s in the new building. It’s right across from the ROM on a street that is supposed to be our “museum mile”! What a huge disappointment.

    Can you imagine there being a McDonald’s across from the Louvre or the Met or the Tate???!!! No! Because the people running those cities and the citizens inhabiting them would never allow such a blight.

    This could only pass in a city as provincial and unsophisticated as Toronto. How sad that we always end up with mediocrity and ugliness.

  31. I’m no fan of McD’s, but they can go wherever they want. It seems snobby to suggest otherwise. Are you sure there isn’t “blight” near the Tate? I recall eating a very very cheap sandwich before going into the Tate Britain last summer.

    I went to the Louvre once too, and it’s like the museum extended a kilometer around the building, sanitized and boring.

    Toronto is more interesting, we do things different. It doesn’t have to look like Paris, a museum of a city. No, a morgue of a city. Our jumbled urbanism might be our greatest strength.

  32. Given the ROM’s now ridiculous head tax, er, entry fee, McDonald’s might be the one place around where a family can feed the kids affordably (apart from the hot dog carts the museum is trying to shoo away). Not like they’d go to C5 or anywhere like that. McDonald’s also isn’t exactly Wal-Mart or Pizza Pizza, as they’ve been able to adapt their model to match their environs.

    I’m not saying that McDonald’s is the kind of place where the food is ideal to feed to kids, or anyone for that matter, but after wandering around a large museum, they’ve made up for it.

  33. I don’t share the feelings of loss. I don’t consider the scale “human”. I find the place confusing and unwelcoming.

    I miss the big silver front of the Imperial 6 Theater on Yonge Street. Now that was some 70s retail architecture.

  34. It’s embarrasing that we’re even having this conversation!

    Having a McDonalds across from the ROM on a street that should be the crown jewel of Toronto is just disgusting. The fact that the new building will again house this crappy fast food chain is incredibly depressing.

    Why can this city never do anything right? A city of this size and importance should not be this ugly and disorganized. Our incompetent, weak city officials keep selling us out to developers make themselves a few bucks. It’s a real shame.