Toronto will bustle again one day soon, says developer

by Neil Sharma on 22 Apr 2021

Much hinges upon the resettlement of Toronto’s downtown core—after the COVID-19-induced exodus of 2020, some wonder if people will ever return to the city—namely the health of its condo market, but according to a prominent developer, Toronto will bustle again one day soon.

“If you look at the things that are driving people away from the downtown core, or did for much of 2020, it’s obviously driven principally by COVID-19 and the things that make people want to live in the downtown core in the long run—employment opportunities, food and beverage, and the ability to be in a high-density area with lots of energy and socializing—is what makes Toronto an attractive place, not just for people who have lived here all their lives but also to immigrants,” Gavin Cheung, executive vice president of CentreCourt, told CREW.

Cheung, who will be taking over as CentreCourt’s president in January, has much to say about what will happen in downtown Toronto in the near future. For starters, he noted that humans crave social interaction and that the dearth to which we’ve grown accustomed over the last 13 months is the likeliest reason Toronto will soon resume its 24-hour city status. However, that won’t happen until people feel it is safe enough to return.

“The timing really hinges on when people feel safe coming back to the downtown core because it is more dense and you’re exposed to a lot of people, and you need to feel it’s not a risk,” said Cheung. “I feel the federal government has set a goal they could beat when they said September is when everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be, and despite hiccups along the way, I think that will stand or improve. I think sentiment will change when people are vaccinated.”

Domestic yearning for The Big Smoke is sure to return, especially because some expect the Roaring Twenties 2.0 post-COVID, but immigration is the sure-fire factor in need of consideration when appraising Toronto’s future. With over a million new immigrants expected to settle in Canada over the next few years—not to mention the government’s recent announcement that 90,000 foreign workers and students will receive permanent status—it’s foregone that many, if not most, will choose Toronto, the country’s economic engine.

“I think the government is doing exactly the right thing when focusing on immigration because it’s always been a source of economic prosperity, and Toronto is one of major beneficiaries of that thinking,” said Cheung. “Before the permanent residents announcement, the government was already on track with increasing immigration. Those sorts of goals and immigration objectives are critical to our economy for any number of reasons: not only are all universities reliant on that, but aside from higher education and skilled workers, it’s critical for our population growth, the economic progress we make as a country, and the most important thing is it’s a very focused source of long-term growth in Toronto.”

Indeed, people are attracted to cities that have premier financial and educational institutions and great healthcare, which bodes well for Toronto’s condo market, says Cheung.

In fact, CentreCourt sold out 8 Wellesley, a 55-storey, 599-unit tower slated for occupancy in 2025, in what Cheung says was basically a weekend, and it’s an indication that Toronto’s condo market isn’t a reflection of our pandemic present, but rather our post-COVID-19 future.

“As far as I know, it’s a record for the GTA. We were under contract within a week of opening the gates to 8 Wellesley for over $500 million of revenue. Call it a full week but basically within a weekend. That, for us and our industry, was a real signal that the people buying into this project see a lot of value in condos as they relate to the low-rise market today, and also that they have a long-term lens on what they’re doing. They’re betting on high conviction and they believe Toronto will get past COVID-19."

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