The Yonge Sheppard Centre was built in the 1970s and was one of the first mixed-use centres in the city. By 2011 the building was aging and the major tenant, Cineplex, had decided to leave making it an excellent opportunity for RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust, and KingSett Capital to completely redesign the space. This renovation has turned into a nine year long project and is nearing completion. The new space includes a modernized mall, two associated office towers, and a new 35-storey apartment.

Attracting new anchor tenants, activating the streetscape, renovating the interior and creating naturally lit atriums were goals of a redesign conceived by Toronto’s Quadrangle Architects. “One of the biggest challenges was that it had no place where you were entering or exiting on the same grade as the street,” says Anna Madeira, executive principal for Quadrangle. Pedestrians can now enter the building at ground level, and in the three-storey deep well take a choice of escalator, elevator, stairs or ramps to reach the shopping levels. 

Quadrangle’s design pulled the façade of the building back to create an overhang around the building and the sidewalks are now 10 metres wide along Yonge and Sheppard Avenue. New storefronts along the resulting promenade have attracted a row of restaurants on Yonge, bookended by two banks that stayed open through all the rebuilding. Even with hoardings still up on part of the block, there’s a marked increase in pedestrian traffic on Yonge, Ms. Madeira says.

New tenants include LA Fitness, which has already opened, and a Longo’s supermarket, which is set to open soon. Both signed 30-year leases that let them specify features, which included 20-foot ceilings and, in the case of the fitness club, a lap pool and basketball court.

The food court has grown from from seven restaurants to a total of 14 including an outlet of Cactus Club Cafe. The seating area has doubled and the range of menu options has broadened. “We wanted to invest in the food court to provide more attraction. It’s part of our effort to make the mall feel more urban. It’s busy here at lunch and dinner and much more active through the day,” Andrew Duncan, senior vice-president of development for Toronto-based RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust

The final stage of the revamp is the Pivot tower, designed by Quadrangle, rising 36 storeys with a total of 361 new rental apartments, due for completion in 2020. All the work was scheduled in 14 stages to keep the mall and Toronto Transit access open during the multiyear renovation. Most of the original tenants not only stayed, but also decided to upgrade their facades during the disruption.

It was a long process, but seeing the final results is extremely satisfying, Mr. Duncan says. “We’re focusing on transit-oriented sites that have retail and the potential for additional uses like office and residential and can integrate with the community. So this checks every box for us. It’s exactly where we want to go to create a better portfolio.”

Yonge Sheppard Centre by the numbers

  • Parking spaces: 1,684
  • Total acres: 8.4
  • Total retail square feet: 305,000
  • Total office square feet: 400,000
  • Total cost of revitalization: $300-million

Source: The Globe & Mail