Moss Park’s revitalization was once focused around a project boosted by Toronto condo king Brad Lamb. Nearly five years later, it stands as one of the city’s biggest real estate failures.
If there was a contest held to determine which downtown intersection was most in need of revitalization, Queen and Sherbourne would be an easy frontrunner. On its four corners, starting at the northwest and working clockwise, you have the edges of Moss Park; a small convenience mart with barred windows; a faded yellow low-rise building that houses a fried chicken joint called Krispy’s (previously it was a Popeyes Chicken & Seafood); and, finally, 134 Sherbourne St. (also known as 229 Queen St. E., pictured above), a vacant, century old, three-storey building that’s been boarded up and abandoned for the better part of a decade.
Heading north from the intersection, there’s a Salvation Army, some old apartment buildings, and a Dollarama. Go south just a block, and you’ll see new condo developments and restored historical buildings. Walk east and you’ll stumble into an area sometimes referred to as Toronto’s skid row, and if you head back towards Yonge you’ll find an increasing number of boutique storefronts and office buildings in old warehouses. In other words, it’s an intersection of disparities, and one that’s badly in need of a facelift.
Nearly seven years ago, there were plans to rejuvenate the area. A company called KC Developments sought to turn the old heritage building at the southwest corner of Queen and Sherbourne into a 10-storey, mixed-use residential building, with 60 condo units and retail on the ground floor, keeping the historical façade intact, of course. The name given to the new development was the Kormann House, a nod to the history of the building, which was originally built in the summer of 1897 as a hotel operated by a man named Frantz J. Kormann.
A document from the City of Toronto states the Kormann House’s heritage attributes as being archetypal of a “late 19th-century hotel anchoring the corner of a prominent intersection.” KC Developments seemingly felt the building had the ability to anchor a future development, as the company worked at drafting plans for the site—and rezoning to allow greater density—for years before an application was officially presented to the city in August 2006. And the name attached to it was none other than Brad Lamb, Toronto’s king of condo sales.
Lamb set up a sales centre, advertising the future condo as a place for young, first-time homeowners. “We were doing really well with it—I had my people promoting and marketing the building, and we had about 50 per cent of it sold,” says Lamb in a recent interview. The area’s residents, as well as an exceedingly interested online community, hoped that the condo development might revitalize not just the intersection—which, up until that point, was best known for a Coffee Time location where the owner was arrested and charged with selling crack January 2008—but also the area as a whole. Nearly five years down the road, however, Kormann House still sits vacant and boarded up.
So what exactly happened? According Stav Adivi—manager at KC Developments’ successor company, Portfolio Management and Development—it was simply too expensive to fix up and maintain the old heritage building and, since the margins were so low, they decided to sell. Lamb, however, tells a different story.
“KC Developments is an Israeli company that got their start buying large numbers of condominiums from developers, packaging them and selling them as a managed product in Israel,” says Lamb. Kormann House was meant to be their first foray into the world of development and Lamb, who says he put the full weight of his credibility behind the project in order to help it sell, put KC in contact with a construction company. In a June 2008 article in The Globe and Mail, reporter Sydnia Yu wrote about the big changes coming to the area thanks to the Kormann House development, and optimistically stated that the project would be finished in two years.
Yet construction never got off the ground. “I heard through the grapevine that KC Developments was trying to sell the development to a third party,” says Lamb, who then pushed for a meeting to confront KC’s top brass about their intentions with Kormann House. “I asked them for a 100 per cent guarantee that they were going to build the development once it was sold, and they couldn’t give me that guarantee, so I had to pull all my sales people and we were done with it.”
For a while, the online community tried to figure what was happening with the property. Matt Elliott, City Hall columnist for Metro Toronto, was one of those who took an active interest. “I lived nearby and I’m kind of nerdy about how urban spaces evolve,” he says in an email. “My sense was, with development both moving up Sherbourne from Lake Shore and coming down a bit from Bloor, transformation at Queen and Sherbourne (and even Dundas and Sherbourne) [was] inevitable.” Once the domain for the Kormann House website expired in early 2009, however, it became obvious that no new building was going up there anytime soon.
So what’s next for Kormann House? In mid-2010, Lamb developed an interest in the site once again, thinking he could take the property off of KC Developments’ hands, and use his development company to build an apartment complex. Problem was, it had been sold three months earlier. During the previous year, it was on the market for $2.97 million, and it was eventually purchased for $1.5 million by Bloorston Farms Ltd. and Yaorland Developments Ltd. Little to no information exists about Bloorston or Yaorland online but, according to the real-estate agent who brokered the deal (and who wishes to remain anonymous), the new owners are a private family who have aspirations to develop the site in the future.
Lamb, however, isn’t very hopeful. “That’s not an easy corner,” he says. “At the time, we first started selling [the Kormann House units], the market was strong, and it was still tough. Nowadays, investors, who are the ones that get condos built through sales, are hibernating.” David Fleming, a real-estate agent, blogger, and columnist for The Grid, cites similar concerns, saying in an email, “As we move out of a red-hot market where anything and everything sells, developers will have to be far more selective with the projects they undertake.”
In other words, don’t hold your breath for a new Kormann House development to materialize. Willie Macrae, a city planner who was involved in KC Developments’ plans for Kormann House, has confirmed that it looks like the new owners are going to hold the property for now. “It’s unfortunate, because we [at the City] are really putting some effort into rejuvenating the area—we did a streetscape improvement nearby on Britain Street, with new planters, and new sidewalks, and the Honda dealership [a half-block east of Kormann House, on Queen] has recently sold, so we’re gonna see some development there. I wouldn’t say the intersection is dead, but I guess at this point, the market speaks for itself.”