Plans were unveiled October 1 for a new mixed-use project in Toronto’s downtown arts and entertainment district. A conceptual design by Frank Gehry adapts the vision of David Mirvish, founder of Mirvish Productions and Canadian art collector and theater producer, for a multi-year, multi-phase project that will bring new cultural, residential, and retail space to a site adjacent to the historic beaux-arts Royal Alexandra Theatre that identifies a point of density in the city’s sprawling footprint. Three towers as tall as 85 stories each will comprise 2,709 units ranging between 450 and 1,100 square feet; a 25,000-square-foot campus addition for Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University; and a 60,000-square-foot art gallery.
For the Toronto-native architect who has lived in California for much of his life, the project is his largest urban commission to date though not his first hometown effort: He redesigned the Art Gallery of Toronto in 2008. “With this project, I wanted to created buildings that were good neighbors to the surrounding buildings and that respected the rich and diverse history of the area. I also wanted to make nice places for the people who live in and visit the buildings,” Gehry says. “It is very special for me to be able to work in Toronto where I was born and to engage the neighborhoods where I grew up.”
His plan relates directly to the scale, materials, and feeling of the John Street Cultural Corridor area. First drafts of the conceptual design consist of two six-story stepped podiums, topped by three residential towers ranging between 80 and 85 stories with distinctive designs for a dynamic addition to the skyline: The podiums will house restaurants and retail space. The west block of the plan, oriented toward King Street West, features a third stepped podium with a 60,000-square-foot building that will house the contemporary abstract art collection of Audrey and David Mirvish, with free admission to the viewing public. With the Mirvish Collection centrally placed, planted terraces will overlook King Street and Metro Square.
The east block of the plan includes the preservation of the Royal Alexandria Theatre and another stepped podium housing the OCAD University facility that lines King Street West. The University will gain a new multi-floor facility for the OCAD University Public Learning Centre for Visual Art, Curatorial Studies, and Art History to include exhibition galleries, studios, seminar rooms, and a public lecture hall.
The design also includes the replacement of the Princess of Wales Theatre—which is owned and operated by Mirvish Productions—as well as adjacent warehouses. Artist Frank Stella, whose murals currently adorn the exiting theater, will work with Gehry to develop works that integrate into the new architecture. “The Princess of Wales Theatre is a wonderful space to experience theatre, but the next step for the future of the neighborhood is providing new kinds of cultural space,” Mirvish says. “This area was transformed 50 years ago after my father purchased the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and this project will continue the theatre’s future and transform the neighborhood again for the next 50 years. We see an opportunity to join our history with Frank Gehry’s history and continue our ongoing commitment to the neighborhood.”
The project’s development, management, and construction will be led by Peter Kofman of Projectcore Inc., in conjunction with David Mirvish. Project approvals from the city planning department anticipate approval periods between eight and 24 months. If the plan is approved, construction will begin on the easternmost tower at the corner of King Street West and Ed Mirvish Way.