Vaughan downtown 'exploding,' says developer hoping to build 50-storey condo towers

The CN Tower defines Toronto's skyline. Roller-coasters define Vaughan's. But not for long.

As Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension nears completion, city ramping up work on its downtown

Is Vaughan ready for a condo boom? The developer behind the proposed Icona condos, left, hopes so. Meanwhile, a number of other condo buildings have already gone up in the city north of Toronto. (Gupta Group/Google)

The CN Tower defines Toronto's skyline. Roller-coasters define Vaughan's.

For now, anyway.

One real estate developer is hoping to build condo towers, stretching 51- and 53-storeys tall, in an area that will soon be the city's downtown core. Other new buildings are already springing up in the same area — dubbed the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre by city planners.

Several factors, highlighted by the nearly complete Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE), are driving the development.

And by 2031, the city hopes to have a dense downtown.

"This is an exploding market in the GTA now," said Steve Gupta, the developer behind the super-tall Icona condo tower proposal.

If approved, the two towers would be built near Highway 7 between Edgeley Boulevard and Jane Street and could be ready by 2020, Gupta said.

And yes, the condos would be far taller than the roller-coasters at Canada's Wonderland.

Vaughan's much-awaited subway station, here still under construction, is set to start operating by the end of 2017. (Google)

When Gupta saw the plans for Vaughan Metropolitan Centre several years ago, he said he thought they were far-fetched.

"But now everybody can see that it's going to happen," he told CBC Toronto, adding that he believes roughly 50 new towers could go up in the next 10 years.

"The more the merrier," he said. "People have to live somewhere."

Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said he's not surprised by the sudden influx of possible development. 

"Developers are recognizing the incredible marketplace that we have," he said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. 

"The Vaughan advantage is clear to everyone. We have great economic growth, great standard of living and quality of life."

The City of Vaughan, which includes Concord, Kleinburg, Maple, Thornhill and Woodbridge, estimates that as of March 2015, some 319,893 people live there. That population is growing by about 11 per cent a year.

Development centred around new subway

But the city's grown without a central hub and, for many, Vaughan remains that suburban mix of purely residential areas and industrial space, Coun. Sandra Yeung Racco said. Building a downtown around the forthcoming subway's northern stop could solve that problem, she said.

I am so excited that we are getting the subway. It's huge for us here.- Lisa Sinopoli, Vaughan-based real estate agent

"We want to really bring everyone together to have an identity," said Racco, who represents the ward where the budding downtown is located.

Racco said plans to develop a pedestrian- and cycling-friendly area began as soon as funding for the subway extension was announced in 2006. Eventually, she hopes the area will be bustling, day and night.

"There's no point in building these things and letting them sit there," she said.

"I don't want us to be like the financial district in downtown Toronto. It is so busy during the daytime, but the minute five o'clock comes around it becomes a ghost town. That is something we don't want to see here."

Vaughan is also offering financial incentives to coax businesses to open offices in the area. Some large companies, like accounting giant KPMG, already operate in the area. 

Racco said she thinks Vaughan is ready for more density, even if it's a big change. As for her thoughts about Gupta's "ambitious" tower plan, the councillor said she'll have to wait and see what city planners say. 

If it's built, who will live there?

Vaughan-based real estate agent Lisa Sinopoli said she's not surprised the city's now pushing to build upward. 

"There's just no more land around us for them to build anything else," she said.

Sinopoli predicts it will mainly be Vaughan residents — either older people looking to downsize or younger people looking to get into the market — who will be the ones buying the new condos. 

For now, she doesn't anticipate Torontonians heading north, though she said the subway access could change that.

"I am so excited that we are getting the subway. It's huge for us here."

The subway extension is set to open at the end of 2017.

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