A chicken and egg situation

“A chicken-and-egg situation” — Condos developers hope people will create community; people want one that already exists

Read the full Where to Buy Now feature in the Real Estate 2018 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

Ottawa has been a bit slow in coming to the party,” says Kevin McMahon of Urban Logic Research and Advisory, an Ottawa-based research, strategic planning, and marketing company focused on the residential real estate market. “But now, slowly, Ottawa is starting to develop these nodes within the city where we see developments that incorporate high-rise buildings, retail, employment, leisure, transit, and people.

“Lansdowne is one example of this,” he says, “although it lacks two things — transit, and it could have done with more residents.”

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, says McMahon. Should developers construct these big buildings, hoping that the influx of people will build community? Or will people shy away from buying into buildings if there is not an existing community?

The Claridge Icon building, slated for a massive 45 storeys on Preston at Carling, is an example of this conundrum. The developers chose to go ahead and build when they had sold only about 25 per cent of the units because they believed that the neighbourhood would continue to evolve and attract people. But key elements are currently missing, which may create hesitancy for potential buyers.

“What’s missing at present is a pharmacy and a grocery store,” says McMahon.

But it does offer easy access to the LRT system, Carleton University, Dow’s Lake, miles of trails, acres of green space, and the restaurants of Little Italy. The tower will also be a great home base for those working at the current Ottawa Hospital campus on Carling — and when the new campus is built near the intersection of Preston and Carling, it will be a stone’s throw away from Claridge’s Icon.

A hop, skip, and a jump away from the Claridge tower is the 21-storey SoHo Champagne condo building, which dominates the skyline with its shiny glass exterior. There’s also the newly built 28-storey Envie by Ashcroft, a residence for students from Carleton.

Lobby of the SoHo Champagne
Lobby of the SoHo Champagne

All this vertical development has caused much division among the residents of Preston Street and Civic Hospital neighbourhoods.

“It’s not all bad,” says Karen Wright of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association. “The student tower was positively received, but we are worried about what all this intensification will mean from a traffic point of view. It was allowed because of our easy access to transit, so there’s therefore no reason to allow a parking spot for each new condo.”

But it’s not just about traffic — it’s also about the changing nature of these downtown neighbourhoods.

“What I see already happening in this neighbourhood is increased vehicle activity and gentrification with rents going up. I’m worried that it’s going to displace lower-income residents,” says Kelly Craig, a homeowner on nearby Pamilla Street, just off Preston.

“One of my main concerns as a resident is to maintain the integrity of the neighbourhood. It’s a great community where everyone knows one another. We’ve got culture, music, architects, and great restaurants — there’s diversity and room enough for everybody. I’m worried that this is going to bring a lot of new people to this neighbourhood all at once, and we don’t even have a grocery store within walking distance, which is a problem. With all this development, we need to encourage people to use public transit here, which will require a change in attitude.”

And while students commuting to Carleton will likely use the nearby O-train and new pedestrian overpasses, it’s condo owners with a parking spot who might be less inclined.

Catherine McLaughlin, who moved from rural Greely into a penthouse condo in 2016 with her husband and daughter, loves living at SoHo Champagne.

SoHo Champagne's gym
SoHo Champagne’s gym

“We love the neighbourhood, we love the building, we love the people,” she says. “We love that we are in an urban area, surrounded by green space but removed from the hustle and bustle. We love living off Preston and being a part of that community. As business owners ourselves, we know that community is all about supporting local businesses, and we do that here with the restaurants, baker, butcher, dry cleaner — all we need is a grocery store! As much as we knew our neighbours in Greely, we also know our neighbours here. There’s a community group within the SoHo Champagne organizing get-togethers.”

SoHo Champagne's cinema
SoHo Champagne’s cinema

The tower is blessed with ample amenities billed as “hotel-inspired.” They include a gym, a cinema, entertaining spaces, and concierge services — all of which McLaughlin and her family use regularly.

Amenities can be a mixed blessing, though, when it comes to building community. The Mondrian, a high-rise at Bank and Laurier, caused a stir last summer when raucous pool parties on the sixth floor upset residents and neighbours alike.

Still, party rooms and other shared spaces — especially those that don’t need to be booked — all help to encourage community, says McMahon. “Research shows that the more you get involved with your co-tenants in a building, the longer you will stay in the area.”

The party room of The Mondrian, a high-rise at Bank and Laurier
The party room of The Mondrian, a high-rise at Bank and Laurier

The Liv Apartments redevelopment project is an attempt to encourage long-term tenancies. The 12-storey rental building on Bell Avenue North was once home to lower-income residents. Closed for a lengthy refurbishment, the building reopened in the spring of 2017.

Vacancy is already low, says general manager Mike Wurster, and that could be attributed to the perks it offers tenants, such as a huge rooftop terrace, an on-site coffee shop, concierge services, a movie theatre, a games room, a gym, and bike rentals, among others. (Appealing to pet lovers, Liv also offers a dog run, a pet spa, and dog-walking services to tenants.)

“I think it’s really important for a developer to have a vision for their high-rise,” says McMahon. “I believe that condos can kick-start a community or change and evolve a community, but the key components must be there — retail, restaurants, employment, transit, recreation.”

Those components are also in place at The Adelaide, an eight-storey building on Aberdeen Street just off Preston that was completed in 2004 as part of a larger complex with offices and retail — a new tower of 25 floors will complete the development. Currently, The Adelaide counts 158 apartments, a Heart and Crown pub, an optician, Starbucks, a nail salon, a medical office, a dentist, a lounge, a convenience store, and a gym. Once the new tower is finished, the lineup of services will expand to include a concierge service and grocery delivery storage, a yoga studio with a garden, a two-storey lounge space with kitchen, a garden, meeting space, and bicycle storage.

Robert King moved to The Adelaide in May 2017 from Quebec’s north shore. He wasn’t too sure about moving to an apartment, having always owned his own home. “We wanted to be reasonably central, but not downtown. This building had everything we wanted, but still we thought of it as a stepping-stone,” King says. “However, we’ve just signed another lease as we love it so much. The building is extremely well managed, it has great access to public transit, and we walk a lot too. We love the sense of community around this area and enjoy being part of Little Italy.”

King is semi-retired but works part-time in a little deli just down the street from his apartment. “It’s perfect, as it’s so close, and I’m really part of the community.”

Over in the east end of Ottawa, the people behind the development of the former St. Charles church on Beechwood Avenue are certainly making community an integral part of their plans. The Vanier site boasts a deconsecrated neo-classical church that was once a gathering place for the francophone community. It has since become a community gathering place, hosting a farmers’ market, food-truck rallies, and Shakespeare in the Park.

An outdoor dining space features a light installation, created by windows of various sizes. Image courtesy ModBox

The building will feature many of the amenities found in other high-end developments, such as a fitness centre, a sauna, a yoga studio, a movie theatre, and an outdoor lounge and dining area, as well as concierge services. Public spaces are set to include several small vendors, a year-round market, a restaurant, and other retail spaces.

“Our aim is to re-energize, in a non-religious way, this former gathering place,” Andrew Reeves, from Linebox Studio, the architectural firm handling the project, told Ottawa Magazine last year. “Although I’m not a religious person, I love the accidental interactions that happen in church, and we hope that will happen here again, with people raising their families here.”

Indeed, St. Charles Market will offer a children’s play area within the communal spaces, and there’s plenty of space right outside the front door for throwing a Frisbee; a park with swings, a play structure, a kiddie pool, and room to run is just a two-minute walk away.

Across town, the games rooms and movie theatre at Liv make the place amenable for older children. While the condos on and around Preston seem to appeal more to young adults and retirees, for families with teenage children, it’s pretty cool to have an in-house gym.

Perhaps the final ingredient for building a successful community is the mix of generations. When we live close to one another at all stages of life, we all benefit.