Art impresario David Mirvish and architect Frank Gehry say three 80-storey condo towers they plan to build side by side in downtown Toronto will be works of art unlike anything the city has ever seen.
"These towers can become a symbol of what Toronto can be," Mirvish said Monday at a news conference. "I am not building condominiums. I am building three sculptures for people to live in."
The plans, which have yet to be approved and will go through a community consultation, would lead to a dramatic overhaul of a landmark section of King Street West, including the elimination of the Princess of Wales Theatre.
In addition to the three towers, the complex would include university studios, free museums, art galleries and private businesses.
Mirvish has been working with the Toronto-born Gehry, the architect behind the new Art Gallery of Ontario, for more than a year. Both men stressed their Toronto roots at the news conference.
Mirvish was at pains to say he wasn't abandoning art or the theatre.
"I’m not retreating from the theatre at all," he said. "I’m as involved in the theatre as I’ve ever been and I’ll be deeper involved because that’s what I do. I do theatre, I do art, and I’m interested in saying who we are as people through architecture. And on that basis, I went to Frank Gehry."
Mirvish said in a letter Sunday that the towers "will be grounded by stepped podiums that will house a large, new public gallery called the Mirvish Collection, a new campus for the OCAD University, and planted terraces that will create a green silhouette overlooking King Street."
Gehry said the miniature models that show his plans for the site are only works in progress.
"If you show any kind of architecture at these early stages that represent anything outside the norm, they get clobbered because people say, 'You can’t do that,'" he said.
Gehry said he wants the first six storeys to deliver a feel of "old Toronto." The towers will each have a different character, and have a sense of movement.
Gehry said he hopes to deliver an "architectural project that’s different than what you’ve seen in Toronto to date."
One of the towers will be built alongside the Royal Alexandra Theatre, while the remaining two will be constructed in the area bordered by Pearl, John and King streets and Ed Mirvish Way.
Mirvish estimates the project will take three to seven years to complete, through several phases.
Adam Vaughan, the city councillor whose ward is home to the proposed condo project, said a formal application will soon be filed and a community consultation process would follow.
"This building in particular, though, is a very complex construction site and touches a number of very difficult projects in the city," Vaughan told CBC News in an interview on Sunday.
"And so how we build it is going to be as critical as to how we process the application."
Christopher Hume, architecture critic for the Toronto Star, said Gehry's participation in the project is exciting but that the development also indicates problems with the city's theatre scene.
"Why is this happening? Clearly, if David Mirvish is doing this and willing to sacrifice a theatre he built 20 years ago, then clearly things don't seem to be working out quite so well down there."
Theatre is just two decades old
The Princess of Wales Theatre will need to be demolished just two decades after Mirvish and his father built it and opened it to the public.
Mirvish reiterated Monday that the theatre was built solely to house a production of Miss Saigon because there was not a suitable facility available.
"I built a theatre in order to put the best I could into it and I built the best theatre I could to put it in," he said.
While some may not cheer the demolition of a landmark downtown theatre, Mirvish said his proposed project will be more beneficial for the community.
"Having theatres that are not full all the time is not better than having art museums and a relationship with OCAD (University) and a relationship with the city and an involvement of retailing and an involvement of other amenities that will develop through this project," he said.
When word broke over the weekend about Mirvish’s planned condo project, he indicated that he would be willing to build a new theatre in future if there was a need to do so.
"Finally, if we find we need yet another facility, I will be prepared to build a new theatre," Mirvish said in a letter to members of the media Sunday.
"I have done that before and I will be willing to do it again."