Metro Morning

Plan for Honest Ed's site revised to save more heritage buildings, add extra park space

Now that Honest Ed's discount store is closed, a clearer picture is coming into view of the proposed redevelopment plan for the Bathurst and Bloor area.

Lead architect promises that the character of the neighbourhood will be maintained

An image by developer Westbank of the proposed plan for redeveloping Bathurst and Bloor streets. The plan was recently submitted to the city with a fresh batch of changes, including the addition of more park space. (Westbank/City of Toronto)

Revisions to the plan for the site of iconic department store Honest Ed's will see more heritage buildings saved and feature a larger public park, according to the city's planning website.

A fresh batch of revisions were submitted to the city's planning division by the developer, Westbank, in mid-January, which, along with the park and heritage buildings, also promises to reduce the development's density.

In the original plan submitted by the developer, only 15 heritage buildings were safe from demolition and there was no park. 

At this point, 23 of the 27 listed heritage buildings on the site, which is bordered by Bathurst Street, Markham Street, Bloor Street and Lennox Street and also includes some parts of the west side of Markham Street, will be saved. The park is set to be 1,150 square metres. 

Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez, who is leading the design team, told Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the plan is to "build a series of smaller buildings that together form a new village" rather than "one large mega-complex, which is what you see a lot of in Toronto."

"The character and the interface with the residential neighbourhood [will be] maintained."

Architect Gregory Henriquez (left), has experience with large multi-use developments, for example, Vancouver's Woodward's Building (right). (Left: Erich Saide, right: Bob Matheson)

What stays, what goes

What the development will end up looking like has been a source of anxiety for some Toronto residents, with some neighbours worried about tall towers dominating the corner of Bathurst and Bloor Streets, and others concerned the area's black heritage will be lost in the shuffle.

Henriquez said his team is working to make sure the section of Markham Street known as Mirvish village, a hub for black-owned businesses, retains its distinctive feel.

"Small houses will be maintained. Restaurants will spill out on the streets. We're even talking to the city about the ability to close it down on the weekends and be able to have events," he said.

Those worried an overly tall tower, however, may still have concerns. After three drafts, the proposed plan still includes a 28-storey building.

In all, the proposal is to build 47 buildings, some of which will be mid and high-rise. Once completed, it will have 804 residential units and 15,000 square metres of non-residential space.

The space will also include a public market and plenty of local retail, Henriquez said.

Say goodbye to the sign, Toronto - plans for redevelopment will scrap the enormous orange, black and gold lettering. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

Not on the docket to be maintained is the beloved gold-and-orange Honest Ed's sign that wraps around the block-length building.

"It's actually a bunch of incandescent bulbs which are environmentally not so sustainable," he said.

Henriquez told Galloway that a there will be a public art program throughout the site, with plenty of homages to Honest Ed's history, including Honest Ed's alley.

Demolition could start in June

But first, one last hurrah in the old Honest Ed's space. The Centre for Social Innovation, which is working with Henriquez on the development, is hosting a weekend of events in the now-empty store in late February, including an art maze and a dance party.

City planning is currently reviewing the latest plan submitted by the developer. After that, it will go to community council and then to city council to be voted on. 

If all goes well, the wrecking ball comes out in June, Henriquez said.

"These things take usually three or four years to build," he said. 

City planner Graig Uens said the city is working with the developer to make sure it has a construction plan that will keep disruption to a minimum. 

With files from Metro Morning