ken tanenbaum In just one year from now, the City of Toronto will be on the world’s radar — perhaps more than ever before. Tens of thousands of athletes and officials, together with 250,000 visitors, will populate the city’s streets for the Pan Am Games, one of the largest multi-sport events ever to be hosted in Canada.

To mark the one-year countdown (the games officially kick off on July 10th) we sat down with Ken Tanenbaum, Vice Chairman of the Kilmer Group, for some inside scoop on the Canary District, a master-planned urban village that will serve as the Athletes’ Village before becoming a permanent residential development.

Take it from Tanenbaum: the new development has the potential to transform Toronto’s downtown east into one of the city’s most coveted locations. Here’s why:

BuzzBuzzHome: When did you first become interested in real estate?

Ken Tanenbaum: I come out of the heavy civil construction industry, which was the core of our family holdings for three generations. My focus over the last decade has been on developing public private partnerships and working with Infrastructure Ontario on private sector capital, to delivering public assets. So I come at real estate from a fairly non-traditional perspective.

BBH: Is there a particular moment that stands out in your mind when you knew the business development industry was the right fit for you, or was it more of a natural transition?

KT: It was a natural flow from the way construction delivery was evolving. The traditional low bid to the design-build-finance model is an evolution that we participated in. That trend continues as the government looks for more efficient ways to deliver hospitals, courthouses, jails, roads, bridges — and the Pan Am Athletes’ Village was a unique challenge where the province used the public-private partnership model to deliver.

BBH: The 2015 Pan Am Games are just one year away, almost to the day. Many major multi-sport events in the past (Sochi comes to mind) turn into mayhem during the final stages of preparation. What is your team doing to make sure the same doesn’t happen?

KT: It begins with setting up for success. Dundee and Kilmer came together with complementary skill sets, but from there we aspired to build the absolute best we could to deliver this project on time and on budget. We aspire to the highest level of design we can achieve. We brought the A-team together to deliver the A product in a Grade A time frame. We’ve been racing through the project at a pace of $1 million a day, so we’ve been running ahead of schedule since the first week on the job. You won’t see two toilets in one bathroom stall here.

BBH: Let’s talk progress. Where does the Canary District stand right now and what has been achieved in the last few months?

KT: We had eight cranes in the air and now if you look at the site, none remain. Every building is up and the cladding is virtually complete. For me, the most exciting thing in the last few months has been the public realm starting to take shape. I think one of the absolute gems about this neighbourhood is the investment being made into the public realm — the 18-acre Corktown Common, the linear park on Front Street and then all the landscaping and trees being planted. The granite curb is also magnificent and is something that would be totally lost on someone who was just walking past the construction gates.

I think the Canary District and Distillery District are going to be magnetic forces that pull people east from the downtown core.

canary park condos

BBH: We heard that you’ll be converting the Athletes’ Village into a residential community (which includes Canary Park Condos) in just nine months. That’s quite the turnaround. What needs to be done to ensure this happens?

KT: We have a trailer full of very smart people who are planning way ahead and thinking about how they’re going to move materials and get the conversion done. I won’t be swinging the hammer myself, but all the hardwood floors and kitchens will go in and the temporary dividing walls will come out. From a construction standpoint, the challenging part is doing that without the service elevators on the outside of the building.

BBH: What can residents expect once the development is complete in spring 2016? 

KT: A tremendous amount of thought has gone into making the neighbourhood work. It’s the mix of residential buildings, affordable rental, student housing, retail space and streetscaping — all really to the effect of driving healthy human friction.

One of the brilliant features that our designers added was the idea that the development blocks are porous. You don’t have to traverse at right angles as you travel through these neighbourhoods, you can actually go through the development blocks with laneways and passageways that can get you from the Corktown Common park to the Distillery District or the transit lanes without having to make right angle turns.

BBH: What impact will the Canary District have on the City of Toronto?

KT: Let me first say that the City of Toronto has an amazing opportunity ahead of it in playing host to the Pan Am Games. It promises the opportunity to bring Ontarians together in a way that we haven’t been able to do in the city before. It’s the biggest multi-sport event we’ve ever hosted and perhaps ever will.

Critical to Toronto’s long-term health is that we continue to be able to attract 100,000 to 120,000 net new migrants a year. So in order to do that, you need to think about density in a very smart way. The Canary District is walkable to downtown and it’s connected to transit; all the things about great urban planning are embodied in this new development.

BBH: You mentioned public realm, but what else are you most excited to see once the district is complete?

KH: I’ve stood at the gates of the Canary District and have looked at this development for the last four years. To actually be able to walk in without my hard hat and work boots is really the moment I’ll be most keen to participate in.

Torontonians’ views are sort of tilted west. We don’t think about Spadina as being as close to Yonge Street as Cherry Street is, but I think the Canary District is tilting the centre of gravity back towards the middle.

Thanks for buzzing with us, Ken!

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