Iconic Toronto heritage building facing imminent threat of development

The Stewart Building, one of the city’s iconic heritage buildings at 149 College St. is well on the way to being developed, according to a press release.

Alignvest Student Housing Inc. (Alignvest) has revealed its intention to engage in a partnership with Northwest Value Partners Inc. for the acquisition of 149 College St., the Stewart Building, in Toronto with plans to rezone and develop the property into a mixed-use, high-rise structure that incorporates student housing. Currently, known as The Stewart Building, this six-storey, 43,118 square foot property is fully leased to the University of Toronto and situated on 0.62 acres.

The proposed development is strategically located in downtown Toronto, near the University of Toronto campus and the Mars Discovery District, making it a focal point for institutional, commercial, and residential use, particularly for University of Toronto students.

It is also a nearly 130-year-old architectural and historic gem.

Constructed in 1894, the Stewart Building, also known as the Toronto Athletic Club, is an architectural masterpiece, designed by E. J. Lennox. It was specifically crafted to accommodate the club’s various activities and notably housed Toronto’s inaugural indoor pool.

Crafted in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, a preference of Lennox, the building’s exterior is composed of sandstone—a material Lennox utilized in other prominent nearby structures such as Old City Hall and the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park. The indoor pool, initially situated in the basement, was later filled in during the building’s conversion into a school.

The controversial move towards potential development comes as Alignvest Student Housing Real Estate Investment Trust (ASH REIT), through Canadian Student Living Group Limited Partnership, embarks on this venture. While the development aims to address the need for student accommodations, there are concerns about the potential impact on the heritage site, which will in all likelihood be reduced to some sort of heritage facade.

Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic didn’t hold back when the news broke via a press release.

“If a 43,000-square-foot six-storey building, designed by one of the most important architects in the history of the city, is a teardown, then heritage policy in Toronto is hopelessly broken,” he wrote, on a social media post.

The building was designated as a heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1978.

The Stewart Building, with its historical and architectural significance, will pose a challenge to balance between development and preservation. While the redevelopment plans aim to meet the increasing demand for student housing, the community and heritage advocates will scrutinize the potential impact on the historical fabric of 149 College St.

“We are excited to be participating in the redevelopment of 149 College Street,” stated Sanjil Shah, managing partner of Alignvest, in a press release. “This is an exceptional opportunity to build much-needed facilities in the heart of the Mars Discovery District for institutional, commercial and residential uses, including housing for students attending the University of Toronto, Canada’s largest post-secondary institution, with the property ideally located across from the university’s main entrance.”

It is important to note that the information provided is based on the perspectives and expectations of ASH REIT and should not be considered as research or investment advice. The proposed redevelopment will likely undergo scrutiny from various stakeholders, including heritage preservation organizations and community representatives, as the project progresses.


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