After a decade of starts and stops, the St Clements Church in Leslieville will indeed be converted into residential lofts, called St Leslieville. And the project is finally underway.
Originally dating back to 1913, the church was decommissioned in 2005 but the previously proposed directions for its re-development stirred controversy. And so the project has seen years of delays with this prime plot of land sitting unused and, until recently, facing an unsure fate for the original historic structure.
With its stellar location - where trendy Leslieville meets up-and-coming Little India – and the fact that there are so few authentic hard loft conversions in development in Toronto, our MrLOFT team has been eagerly awaiting news.
Here's what we know so far about these highly-anticipated, new Leslieville lofts.
The development is led by deCargani Developments Inc. They took over from Sonterlan Corp whose previous vision for the conversion stalled and eventually fizzled (you can read about the previous plans in this Toronto Star article).
deCargani have partnered with the architectural firm Open Architects on the church loft segment of this project. Beside the historic loft will be new build townhouses (more on those below) with Lifestyle Custom Homes assigned to that build.
Here's what we like about this team's vision: the lead over at deGanti has been involved in the project for years but only recently took the reins from the previous developer. And so he knows the history and controversy surrounding the project first-hand (and knows what mistakes to avoid making to appease their neighbours and City Hall). But he's also bringing a fresh perspective because his team's vision is a little different from what we've seen previously.
deGanti has demonstrated a more balanced vision - an appreciation for history and commitment to heritage preservation while at the same time, a commitment to providing practical and resonably-priced modern homes for young professionals and families. Although "reasonably priced" is up for debate; more on that below.
There were various visions pitched by various developers over the years and many involved knocking the church down or altering its structure and architecture significantly but the church’s subsequent Heritage designation will prevent this.
From the developers: "Over the past few years, numerous development groups have looked at many angles to approach this project; from knocking the church down (which is thankfully no longer permitted due to its Heritage designation); to maintaining only the front facade; to building a large 4 story condominium addition.
…we chose to keep the building as it is. In our opinion, it would be sinful to destroy the wonderful gothic arched windows or knock down the original bell tower at the back of the building. It was these very features that made The St. Clements special to begin with.
Our plan is to retain as much of the original structure and integrity of the building and make minimal adjustments to increase natural light into the space in order to preserve and enhance St. Leslieville’s beauty and charm."
In terms of design, like deGanti, Open Architects also appear sensitive to the heritage of the building but (although they'd never say this) they also get the fact that this isn't as character-rich as many other heritage buildings in Toronto. Yes, you have gorgeous arched windows and vaulted ceilings, but let's be real here - other than that and the exterior shell, this isn't one of the more beautiful or even visually interesting conversion opportunities we've seen over the years.
And so the architects have partnered with Wilkem Design Firm to bring some pizzaz to the interiors. Part of this may be down to the styling of the renderings but we see Mad Men mid-century modern meets turn of the century industrial in these images, with contemporary kitchen and bath finishes for balance.
There's a lack of pretention in this melding of movements that we love. This design duo also understands how modern homeowners entertain and the main living space is designed with that in mind. Bottom line: there's a warmth to the early design renderings that, if achieved, will make these lofts feel cozy, something that's not easy to produce in hard lofts.
In terms of the townhomes, because price points are reasonable, design is pretty basic. But I think we need more of that - builders who focus on providing more square footage, extra bedrooms and at least a small outdoor space versus small but flashy spaces. That's something that Lifestyle Custom Homes pride themselves on - building comfortable but affordable homes for the modern family.
And the truth is, if you have a couple of young children, you really don't want a marble foyer and too much glass and steel. Fingerprints, spills and wear-and-tear, people. Most families I know are living with nice but relatively basic interiors and planning major upgrades for when the kids are a little older.
The church conversion will include 14 hard loft units ranging in size from 804 sqft one bedroom flats up to a 1,980 sqft two bedroom suites that would suit a professional couple (although it's being touted as a family-sized unit - a family with one child only, sure, but the layouts aren't the most family-friendly). The majority of the units will be over 1,000 sqft which is what you want in an authentic loft space; one of the biggest benefits (pun intended) of Toronto lofts for sale versus condos is that they tend to be larger and have much higher ceilings, particularly hard lofts.
The builders are aiming to be as green as possible in the build and (something that should be a given in conversions but isn't always), ensuring energy efficiency (proper sealing of historic windows, good insulation, etc.). In terms of amenities, this is a hard loft conversion so don't expect any bells and whistles but it will have the basics - parking, storage and bike lockers.
What's great about the floor plans is that even with such a small number of units, there is variety. There are one, two, three and four level designs with one or two bedrooms each. Okay, so a three or four storey unit may be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.
On the one hand, the more "vertical" units will probably end up feeling similar to townhouses and so you have lots of stairs to contend with and a small, upper floor den that, if you're like many townhome dwellers, you'll likely never end up using much. But on the otherhand, pretty much every townhome developer is going for stacked layouts these days to squeeze in more units and maximize profits. We love that you won't have a neighbour directly above or below you in St. Leslieville.
The biggest focus design-wise seems to be on preserving the Gothic style, arched windows and leveraging as much natural light as possible as is expected of a church conversion.
With church conversions, you don't typically have gorgeous wood and exposed brick like you get in factory or warehouse conversions of brick and beam structures. It really is all about those vaulted ceilings and arched windows. That, and the intimacy of the scale of the building, is where you're getting your character from and that's what Toronto church loft enthusiasts are going to be looking for.
Like all good modern developments, you can't have a heritage conversion without an adjacent new build. Okay, we say this with sarcasm but in this case, it really makes sense. We need an influx of more affordable, family-sized homes in the area and the church itself will only house 14 units.
Lifestyle Custom Homes will be building 12 townhomes next door with prices starting around $700K. Although pre-construction is rife with risk and typically overpriced, the price list is fair for these towns considering the location. That was one of the biggest criticisms about previous design proposals - that the cost to buyers was way too high, especially considering all of the risk and wait times that pre-con buyers have to assume.
One of the keys to this proposal getting the stamp of approval was in how sensitive the new architecture is to the adjacent heritage structure and its integration with the neighbourhood. It's surrounded by low-rise freehold housing and so even a mid-rise soft loft would have been imposing. Townhomes are a great choice for addressing neighbourhood concerns and providing more family-sized homes in a prime area.
The developers have stated that they plan on "...maintaining the overall harmony of the neighborhood by building tastefully appointed homes adjacent to St. Leslieville that will complement the structure and not overshadow it."
Two potential issues here, depending on your needs and budget.
One, the developers are calling the aesthetic "luxury, contemporary design" but we would argue that point. The interiors are a mix of modern and contemporary and there's some really nice proposed finishes in the early renderings but it depends on your definition of "luxury". That word is totally overused in new development marketing speak. This is a nice design with what appears to be quality finishes but luxury is probably an overstatement.
I don't mind a step or two down from true luxury though. That's not a criticism. I'd much rather see interiors that are solid in construction and timeless in their aesthetic but not overly flashy in order to offer more reasonable price points to buyers. But therein lies the second issue.
You could argue that with prices starting at around $530k and pushing up over $1M for the loft conversion units, this isn't affordable for many buyers. And you'd be right.
This is sort of a middle of the road pre-con project in our minds. On the one hand, it's not priced outrageously in comparison to other pre-con projects currently in development. And you have to expect to pay more for this intimacy of scale - this isn't a tall tower filled with cooke-cutter micro condos.
On the other hand, the value proposition is different depending on the unit (we can review the full price list with you) and you have to compare the opportunity here to that of comparable re-sale lofts in the area, particularly considering all of the extra risks you'll assume when buying pre-construction.
With these things in mind, I'd be recommending to my clients to consider some of the re-sale Leslieville and Riverside lofts for sale including two of my favourite east side buildings, the Broadview Lofts currently selling at $565/sqft on average and the Garment Factory Lofts at $621/sqft on average, particularly when you start approaching the $650/sqft mark for pre-con. There are also some great units that come up in the Glebe Lofts in prime Riverdale, another church conversion steps to the Pape subway, averaging out at around $570/sqft currently.
Also bear in mind that Jones Avenue is primed for serious transformation but it is still a transitioning street in Leslieville. It has a long way to go yet to completely transform and I would expect a ton of building activity to be happening around me in the coming years if I were to buy here. Again, that could be a pro or a con, depending on the buyer.
So, in terms of value, you're not getting a deal here by any means but if you're set on the area and you don't like any of the existing re-sale loft buildings, than it may be worth a closer look. We do like the designs and location of this build and the team seems to have a strong vision.
This isn't a first-time buyer opportunity either. But that's okay because there are plenty of starter lofts in Leslieville and Riverside already. This is really for mid level executives in my opinion who want something more intimate and unique than the lofts along Carlaw, Queen and Broadview offer, whereas the townhome project next door offers greater affordability for young families. It's quite refreshing actually to see that kind of mix of target demographics integrated into one development.
If you move ahead with this or any other pre-con purchase, whether it's with us or another team, we strongly encourage you to bring your own representation to the table. Do not enter into negotiations with any pre-construction sales office without your own Real Estate agent. It won't cost you any more to do so.
Hire a loft expert, not a generalist Realtor, and have a read of this post from our colleagues over at Condos.ca on the top 10 mistakes that buyers of pre-construction make.
All images © 2015 St Leslieville.