December 8, 2021

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Apartments at malls are the next big thing in Toronto real estate

Cinnabon for breakfast, Manchu Wok for lunch, Thai Express for dinner… Cinnabon again, just for the heck of it.

The idea of living at a mall sounds like something straight out of a teen sitcom star’s fantasy, but it’s not entirely out of reach — not anymore, with how much the retail industry is shifting and changing.

No less than three major shopping centres in the Greater Toronto Area are slated to have residences on-site in the not-so-distant future, alongside parks, office space and other amenities typical of a modern-era mega-development.

The President of Oxford Properties Group, which owns Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Square One Shopping Centre and Scarborough Town Centre (among so many other huge retail spaces), told Bloomberg last week that the company is “planning to add apartment buildings” to each of the aforementioned malls.

“We’re starting to go vertical,” said the real estate juggernaut’s President Michael Turner during an interview with Bloomberg in New York on November 2, foreshadowing several new mega-developments that are planned to rise around local shopping centres in the coming years.

“I can assure you that what you see today is not what they’re going to look like over the coming decade or two.”

Malls in Toronto are relatively short given how much space they take up. Going vertical could provide the city with some much-needed housing, among other potential uses. Photo by Jack Landau.

Ground has already been broken on a new community surrounding Square One in Mississauga, where Oxford is transforming 130 acres of property around the existing mall into an “18 million square foot master-planned mixed-use neighbourhood of the future.”

That project will result in the addition of 18,000 residential units to the Square One property alongside enough office and retail space to accommodate a community of about 35,000 people in total.

While not yet built, condos at Square One are already up for sale, starting at around $700,000.

square one district

A rendering of the community planned around Square One Shopping Centre. Image via Oxford Properties Group.

Oxford has also submitted plans for a similar proposal at Scarborough Town Centre, where developers hope to build 36 new residential towers ranging in height from 20 to 65 storeys high. 

New residential enclaves, pedestrian promenades, public park space and parkades would replace all of the surface parking at the site now, but the mall would remain intact.

The resulting community, which is being master-planned in conjunction with the City of Toronto, will contain more than 1,300 purpose-built rental units if everything goes as planned.

stc redevelopment

The Scarborough Town Centre area will be completely unrecognizable should the city approve site use plans that include some 8,000 residential units. Image via Oxford Properties.

And then, of course, there’s Yorkdale — the most valuable shopping centre in Canada (based on dollars spent per square foot) and one of the crown jewels in Oxford’s robust portfolio. 

Turner told Bloomberg that plans for rental towers at the shopping centre as still in the early stages, but towers are definitely coming if The City of Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre Block Master Plan is any indication.

The city is currently still in the process of choosing between three potential proposals for the redevelopment of Yorkdale mall and its immediate surroundings, but all three include the addition of retail, hotel, office and residential buildings ranging in height from two to 28 storeys.

yorkdale future rendering

Developers hope to build Yorkdale Shopping Centre into its own community with plenty of rental apartments and condos. Rendering via City of Toronto.

It will be years, if not decades, before we see some of the projects mentioned above come to fruition — getting plans approved can take years alone, and constructing an entire neighbourhood isn’t a fast, cheap or easy process.

City officials have put a timeline of “20+ years” on the Yorkdale redevelopment, which will be built in phases once approved.

When all is said and done, however, the sprawling cathedral of consumption and others like it will transform into mixed-use neighbourhoods that, as Bloomberg puts it, “invite renters to live where they shop.”

“Intense competition from e-commerce retailers and the loss of business caused by pandemic shutdowns have pushed several North American mall operators into bankruptcy,” explains the business news outlet.

“The erosion of the traditional shopping mall business has spurred more operators to add housing to their properties, tapping into a sector of the real estate market that has outperformed retail.” 

And it’s not only Oxford making moves in this space: Toronto’s Dufferin Mall, Cloverdale Mall, Galleria Mall, and Agincourt Mall are all at the centre of proposals for similar shopping-centric communities.

See you at Sbarro for breakfast!