Investing Time in a Place

From Shopping Center Business Magazine, September 2014

By Randall Shearin and Lynn Peisner

The Remington Group’s $4 billion plus project, Downtown Markham, is building an urban streets cape that’s inviting Greater Toronto Area residents to live, work and play there.

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The Remington Group is one of Canada’s most high-profile developers. Founded by Donato Bratty 60 years ago and carried on by his heirs, the firm is rolling out what will likely be known as its signature development, Downtown Markham, immediately north of Toronto. It’s also redeveloping Market Village mall into Remington Centre, about two miles away. While different from each other, both projects are either generating or responding to a distinctive, regional sense of place and culture that defines the city today.

Downtown Markham is now home to some 2,000 families as well as 1 million square feet of office space, both existing and under construction. There will be 3.4 million square feet of commercial space when the project is fully built out. Companies already ensconced in the commercial space include Honeywell, Worley Parsons, and Motorola. Insurance company Aviva Canada is set to open its corporate head office in Downtown Markham in 2017. Local media sources say the city has attracted more than 190 companies with more than 8,300 employees since 2008. Evelynn Ratcliffe, retail marketing, The Remington Group, tells us how the 404-corridor in Markham contains the fourth largest concentration of offices anywhere in Canada. It stands to reason that a lll those workers need places to live and unwind. That’s where The Remington Group is strategically plotting the layout and structure of what is shaping up to be a lively, walkable, urban community.

The Remington Group acquired the land for Downtown Markham about 30 years ago. The City of Markham comprises four communities: Markham Village, Unionville, Milliken and Thornhill. Slowly, the vision of what Downtown Markham would be began to take shape. Initially, the area was to be a master-planned community with residential, retail and commercial corridors. According to Ratcliffe, it was connected by green space and looked good on paper, but the plans had yet to be more fully integrated.

“The idea for Downtown Markham was lovely, but it was horizontal,” says Ratcliffe. “It wasn’t vertical. So there were several iterations of the master plan over the years. By the time we actually broke ground and started working on it in the early 2000’s, the master plan had changed to look more like a downtown.”

DM_aerial.jpgRatcliffe says Downtown Markham will stand out because of the ways in which the many uses are connected to one another and how the spaces between the buildings are being activated, whether through distinctive art projects, including a solar-powered folk art carousel, a heavy emphasis on public transportation and numerous LEED/green initiatives built into the development. So far, every completed building has registered LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum. And transit was a major focus for the developers, who worked alongside transit experts from Ontario to build wheeled transit into the project beforehand, with dedicated lanes for buses, ensuring other drivers would never be stuck behind a bus. The carousel came about  thanks to $20 million set aside for the arts in Downtown Markham.

“There is an authenticity to cities that you don’t always find in some master-planned communities that are built in a matter of a few years,” Ratcliffe says. “Those can feel very contrived. So Downtown Markham invested 15 years of best practice research trying to understand what it is about really successful downtowns that makes them tick.”

The first phase of retail will open later this year, headlined by a flagship Cineplex theatre with 13 screens and 2,500 seats, which makes up about one third of the 175,000 square feet of retail available. Along with the movie theatre, it will include lifestyle stores, such as Curry’s Art Store, a number of quick service and full service restaurants, as well as an additional 90,000 square feet of office space. After that phase is complete, a 200-room boutique hotel under the Marriott flag is planned as well as about 300 units of condos.

A report by Colliers identifies the area surrounding Markham as one of the top three most underserved nodes for retail in the country, Ratcliffe says. One traditional enclosed mall, Main Street Unionville and Main Street Markham, and a few mom and pop shops in Markham as well as a few scattered strip malls are about the size of retail offerings in the area. Based on current market projections the project is expected to be completely built in about 10 to 15 years. Ratcliffe says that at build out, the area will be home to some 15,000 residents and more than 2 million square feet of retail as well as 3.4 million square feet of office space. The project is estimated at more than $4 billion.

Remington Centre will serve the area’s strong Chinese community and have an international style. “We have a tremendous amount of foreign visitors every year,” Chan says. “That’s why we decided to create a brand new image around the property.”
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