Ontario Line sparks land grab in Moss Park

Andre Bermon, Publisher of the bridge community newspaper

Moss Park, a Downtown East community long impervious to change, is on the precipice of gentrification.

The historically marginalized district, nestled between several high-priced neighbourhoods, is seeing lucrative real estate deals thanks in part to the planned Ontario Line subway project. The 15.6-kilometre transit line is set to run from Exhibition Place to Ontario Science Centre with a planned station on the northwest corner of Queen and Sherbourne Streets.

The past six months have seen a flurry of land purchases in Moss Park as developers try to capitalize on the province’s $10.9 billion plan by building high-rises near downtown rapid transit.

Added density is accepted by the City  as the solution to the community’s longstanding social ills. High-rise development has crept eastward from Jarvis Street along Dundas Street, with a 41-storey condominium soon to gobble up the adult entertainment club Filmore’s, for example.

Whether such an aggressive approach to gentrification will pay long-term dividends remains to be seen, but the City continues to greenlight development projects around Queen and Sherbourne.

The Tricon-One Properties proposal between McFarren Lane and Ontario Street, two-thirds of which Tricon purchased for $129 million in April, will add three mixed-use structures of 24, 25 and 33 storeys. Construction is likely to begin next spring.

Across the street from the proposed Moss Park station box, the abandoned but once lively Canada House Tavern has now exchanged hands. According to Ontario Land Registry documents, the property management company Dash Inc. bought the building listed as 134 Sherbourne, which includes the Moss Park safe injection site, for $12,125,000 in July.

Dash’s summer shopping spree also included neighbouring Anishnawbe Health Centre building, bought for $6,887,000, and the building housing 1922, a marijuana dispensary and Famo sandwiches. No development proposal has yet been submitted.

At Queen and Parliament, the infamous WE buildings – empty since last year’s WE Charity scandal involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his family and resigned finance minister Bill Morneau – have been purchased for another mixed-use development. According to the CoStar News commercial real estate media, eight-properties that included 135 and 139 Berkeley Street, 329, 331, 333, 335-337 and 339 Queen East (the former WE headquarters), was transferred to Generation Capital for $36 million. The deal closed Aug 23.

The current status of a long-time Moss Park staple, Alfie’s Bar & Grill, like the Canada House Tavern a living testament to the neighbourhood’s rough-and-tumble blue collar days, confirms that the Ontario Line is expected to usher in change to the community. The Realtor.ca website lists Alfie’s building at 222 Queen East for $2.28 – million with a description that reads “With Ontario Line Coming; Lots Of Developments In Area”.

While those who know the infamous bar will likely be shocked by the sticker price, the listing reveals how significant proximity to proposed subway plans is. Inflationary speculation has made the Moss Park dive bar worth millions.

As more details emerge, the province’s transit project will add to development pressures in Toronto’s remaining inner-city ghetto, while accelerating land values may raise questions about the long-term viability of the area’s concentrated social housing.

The Moss Park Complex owned by Toronto Community Housing, built in the early 1960s, comprises six 16-storey buildings on approximately seven acres of prime downtown real estate. Its sister site, Alexandra Park, has been approved for revitalization and construction has already begun.

The threshold has been crossed. Moss Park is bound for a dramatic transformation.

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