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Old Posted Sep 9, 2005, 6:27 PM
TOBoy TOBoy is offline
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Another article from the Globe and Mail:

ROM condo would tower over U of T


Friday, September 9, 2005 Page A1

The Royal Ontario Museum has applied to the city's planning department for approval to erect a 44-storey, 197-metre-high condominium and office tower on the site of the defunct McLaughlin Planetarium at the museum's southern border.

The skyscraper -- which, if built, will be slightly more than one-third the height of the CN Tower -- is expected to generate considerable discussion and debate between now and its expected completion date in mid-2008. In part, this is because it's to be situated within the footprint of the University of Toronto in an area that so far has been predominantly institutional in nature, rather than residential.

The sheer presence and height of the proposed tower are "substantially in excess of what existing regulations allow," a city planner said yesterday.

"It's a significant application . . . and we will be examining it carefully with respect to existing policies for that district."

The layered-glass tower, a co-development with Toronto-based Graywood Developments Ltd., that will feature 39 floors of condominiums atop a five-storey, 3,150-square-metre podium of facilities for the ROM and other institutions, is expected to cost more than $1,000 a square foot. This in a city where $500 a square foot is considered luxurious.

The entire structure will likely contain no more than 90 units, the smallest being about 1,900 square feet, and the largest approximately 8,000 square feet.

"Certainly, it's going to be one of the most expensive buildings . . . that's ever been seen in Canada," said Brian Brisbin of Toronto's Brisbin Brook Beynon, principal architects for the project.

For William Thorsell, director and CEO of the ROM, the tower is "the last great gift to Toronto from" the $230-million Renaissance ROM project he initiated in 2001, and a "fitting bookend and balance" to the Daniel-Libeskind-designed crystalline structure currently being erected on the ROM's northern perimeter along Bloor Street W.

The metal-and-glass crystal renovation is scheduled to open to the public July 1 next year.

Mr. Thorsell was decidedly bullish yesterday about the prospects for the tower, which the ROM requires for both its administrative functions and the financing of programs and operations in its expanded quarters. With 27,000 square metres of new and renovated exhibition space coming on stream, the museum is hoping to increase its annual average attendance to 1.6 million from the current 900,000.

Besides, Toronto "needs a few expensive buildings," he said. "We've been building at $200 a square foot for years . . . Look at Nathan Phillips Square and vicinity: it's so degraded now you'd think you're in some mid-level Soviet city.''

The overall project, called ROM South, also involves a radically improved, highly accessible museum subway stop for the Toronto Transit Commission as well as landscaping and a reflecting pool along Queen's Park and an east-west extension of the north-south axis of bucolic Philosopher's Walk, to align roughly with Charles Street.

However, despite what Mr. Thorsell called "its obvious excellence" -- Mr. Brisbin likened the ROM tower to the campanile, or bell tower, in Venice's famous Plaza San Marco and Cesar Pelli's well-regarded residential tower on the site of New York's Museum of Modern Art -- it's clear some sort of fight with planners, city councillors, U of T officials or neighbouring residents is expected.

Graywood Developments recently hired Toronto lawyer Stephen Diamond to help shepherd the ROM tower through city hall and the appeals that likely will end up at the Ontario Municipal Board.

But even if it scores approval, will there be any buyers? Brad Martin, a prominent realtor in the Toronto condominium market, has his doubts. Yesterday he agreed the high-end route is the way to go for the McLaughlin site, but with the ROM residences likely to cost $2-million or more, the Graywood-ROM vision is perhaps too high-end and unrealistic in the city's competitive, condo-rich market.
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