RioCan is a major retail landlord that owns some 200 properties with an enterprise value of about $12.7 billion, and has long been associated with traditional shopping malls and big-box stores bordered by parking lot sprawl. Under new leadership from Jonathan Gitlin, it has just completed its latest development, The Well in Toronto. It’s an example of the transformative power of a retail-focused REIT in the e-commerce age, where shoppers always have the option to click and stay home, instead of wandering around the mall.

But at The Well, some of those shoppers live and work in the residential towers and commercial offices above the shops, which open to the surrounding neighbourhood, drawing the wider community to a pedestrian-accessible space that hearkens back to the small town main streets of old. The mixed-use, residential, retail and commercial development is set on eight acres of land at Front Street and Spadina Avenue, just west of the city’s financial core. 

It was 11 years in the making, and initially involved three developers, which in the end became two — RioCan and Allied Properties Real Estate Investment Trust. The building iincludes six residential towers and one office building, all ranging in height from 14 to 42 storeys, with a partially covered, open-air, multi-level mall at the base.

“RioCan might be the most motivated homebuilder in the country,” Gitlin said. “We have got the land — we have 14 million square feet of density that is ultimately available to us — and a lot of it is zoned, and some of it is shovel-ready to go. There is opportunity.”

However, The Well’s residential components aren’t really what all the hubbub is about in Toronto. Instead, it is the mall that doesn’t much look like a mall, as far as Canadian malls go, but instead resembles something you might see in a sophisticated European locale.

The entire complex is shot through with pedestrian walkways, linking the property to surrounding streets. There are wide sidewalks, landscaping and nifty architectural touches, such as white-glazed terracotta cladding, and brick and beam whatnots. There are even metal bridges, in a nod to the area’s industrial past.

“We love the open-air community aspect, and feel it’s part of what makes The Well unique,” Jim McClellan, Indigo Books and Music Inc.’s vice-president of real estate, said. “The variety of interesting, carefully selected retailers invites exploration, and the architecture is captivating, with its variety of materials, scales and styles. In total, it feels like a wonderful community hub.”

And it is not just about books. Those in need of a checkup can access a dentist’s office, and those looking for a new couch can hit the furniture store. Parents can also drop the tots off at an on-site daycare. A food market is coming soon, and the pizza joint already there has lineups to get in.

Ken Greenberg, an award-winning international urban design guru, praised the community input that was sought during the development. “What they have done here marks a pretty significant step away from the mall as we have known it, as a hermetically sealed, air-conditioned indoor space,” he said. “Instead of trapping everybody inside, the way a mall does — for example, like the Eaton Centre does — the development is open to all the surrounding streets, and it breaks down to seven small pedestrian blocks, so it is really stitched into the fabric of the wider area.”

For all the buzz about The Well, the new development is just one high-profile piece of a much larger property portfolio anchored by retail tenants that RioCan collects rent from each month.

“Retail is our core,” he said. “The apartment building side, or the multi-use residential side, is definitely an element of growth, but the future of the company is anchored in retail.”

Read the full article at the Financial Post website. 

Source: Financial Post