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November 23, 2007

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Move Smartly, a Toronto neighborhood and real estate blog, worries about the future of the city's Distillery District.


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The Distillery District is private property, so maybe the best analogy is "lifestyle centre" -- an outdoor mall with upscale boutiques etc. And like any mall, it has directory signs, mall security, and liability concerns. Thankfully that's more or less where the comparison ends. The Distillery is notable for having a "no chains" policy, so the influx of residents won't bring a Starbucks (or Tim Horton's) to the cobblestones. And as long as the tourists will keep coming, there'll be incentives to have the sorts of shops and galleries that tourists expect.

It's worth noting that the neighbours aren't as high-income as one would expect. Options for Homes, an innovative affordable housing program, built two of the existing condos in the area (I think the building at the right edge of your picture is one of them). The adjacent St. Lawrence neighbourhood -- the mid-rises along the row of tress pointing towards downtown -- was also a very successful affordable housing project.

There's much more development coming with the West Don Lands neighbourhood to the east. I'd guess that that area will end up being home to the greater mix of activities while the retail in the Distillery District itself stays like it is today. Seems a bit like how Yorkville (with its high-end shops and film festival star spotting) is adjacent to the Annex (much more organic and residential) -- a relationship that seems to work, on the whole.

john trenouth

I was there last March. My immediate reaction was that it was too tidy, too ordered, too self-consciously planned. It was all incredibly predictable and offered no surprises at all.

I think a certain messy and dis-order is necessary for a place to spark--but then I've always preferred gumbo to sushi.

Michael Wells

What is it about old liquor manufacturing buildings? This looks and sounds like Portland's Brewery Blocks, which were among the first pieces developed in what's become the Pearl District. The developers decision to keep and renovate the old buildings, rather than demolish them and put up multi-level parking as their California financial backers recommended, was key in the success of the whole district.

The Brewery Blocks and South Pearl had the advantage of Powell's Books already being there, and the decision to locate a Whole Foods as an anchor was another good move. Otherwise, there are too many national chains for my taste but it brings in shoppers who otherwise probably wouldn't come to local shops. The local shops are further North and West. However, if you want a successful shopping district you can't at the same time have funky used clothes stores, so it's all pretty upscale.

There are two arts colleges in the neighborhood, Portland Center Stage theater company in their own renovated building, and several of the more successful galleries have actually bought their spaces, so the Pearl is probably set as a cultural center for a while. And despite the national housing slowdown, I count six cranes building new high-rise condo or apartment buildings when I drive by.

For the Distillery district, I'd guess give it time and those signs will weather and fade into the background. By definition the hot new neighborhood will become the lukewarm old one. What's important is that it builds a life of its own that can continue after the hipness fades.

Tyler Greenleaf

I work in the Distillery District and have thought a lot about how it has and will grow, and where it lies in the overall planning of Toronto. It will always feel different because it is pedestrian oriented. Right now it does feel like you are walking onto a movie set, but in time and with good planning to its immediate surrounding areas, the essence of it can be easily woven in and out of the community making it not feel "Disneyfied".

While the Distillery is currently an island of a neighborhood (surrounded by a lot of parking lots), I believe it can and will hopefully be integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. The TTC is creating a streetcar line that will run down Cherry street on the east side of the Distillery. The West Donlands is planned to contain a lot of medium density buildings. If certain features of Cherry Street include something simple like brick sidewalks, it could continue the feeling of the Distillery and create a unique identity for the neighborhood.

Another area that would help the Distillery and its place in the city is to develop all of the parking lots along Parliament, as well as the Car Dealership(s) north of of the Distillery. While the Distillery is very pedestrian friendly, the surrounding area is not. The car dealership north of the Distillery could easily be split by 2 smaller roads, turning one massive block into four smaller ones. This would help ease the area from King Street to the Distillery by moving the neighborhood from a main thoroughfare (including a streetcar), to an area that has smaller blocks and streets, to the Distillery, where no cars are allowed.

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