Lanterra Has a Flair for Urban Renewal
In just over a decade in the condo business, the duo behind Lanterra Developments has demonstrated a talent for transforming neglected parts of the city into bustling mixed-use communities.
“We always seem to be the contrarians,” explained company president and CEO Barry Fenton one recent morning at the now-vacant Sutton Place Hotel. The timeworn tower at Bay and Wellesley Sts. will be redeveloped into “The Britt,” a 650-suite luxury glass condo with 20,000 square feet of retail space that Lanterra hopes will spark revitalization along that stretch of Bay. “We’re usually the first to get into an area and redevelop it.”
Case in point: North of the Gardiner Expressway, Lanterra helped turn what was once the no-man’s land between Front St. and Lake Shore Blvd. into a new centre of gravity, a mixed-use hub of condos, shops, restaurants and entertainment. The Residences of Maple Leaf Square includes two towers, the boutique Hôtel le Germain, offices and more than 100,000-square-feet of retail space. Nearby, along York St., Lanterra is building Ïce Condos, which will comprise a pair of iconic 67- and 57-storey towers, an office building and a landscaped public square.
“When you look at what we’ve created between the dome (the Rogers Centre) and Air Canada Centre,” Fenton says, “if we hadn’t gone in and played Monopoly and created the synergy by doing Maple Leaf Square and Ïce, I don’t believe you would have seen the few million square feet of office space and the other condos and hotels that are now going in.”
Lanterra achieved something similar with its maiden development, WaterPark City, a two-tower, 2,000-unit project that pioneered the Fort York neighbourhood and spawned a condo cluster at Bathurst and Fleet Sts.
Farther north, at Lawrence Ave. and Dufferin St., Treviso — a development with two eight-storey buildings and a 20-storey tower with 1,500 condo units, plus retail space — is similarly helping to turn around that derelict section of town.
“Our projects accomplish things that are not typical,” says Mark Mandelbaum, Lanterra’s chairman, who joined forces with Fenton more than a decade ago. “They’re creating new neighbourhoods and new urban realities. That’s what we like to do.”
The Lanterra duo estimate they’ve built and sold close to 9,000 residential units over their decade or so in the condo business.
Mandelbaum oversees the design, architecture and marketing of Lanterra’s projects; Fenton manages acquisitions and construction. But they often step into one another’s roles.
In his pre-Lanterra years, Fenton was president of a real estate company that specialized in commercial and residential buildings; Mandelbaum worked for more than two decades doing residential and commercial land development with his family’s business, H&R Developments.
Fenton and Mandelbaum formed Lanterra after working together on the development of One Bedford, a 32-storey condo at the northeast corner of Bloor St. W. and Bedford Rd., in 2001.
“We’re two very creative partners,” adds Fenton. “We spend a lot of time not only on the inside designing, but also trying to figure out which areas other developers have not been to. We like having a blank canvas and creating projects that will add value to an area.”
Lanterra has developed a host of other high-profile projects, including the Toy Factory Lofts and the Murano and Burano towers along Bay St. just south of the Sutton Place Hotel.
Over the next few years the company expects to bring more than 3 million square feet of development to the market.
Lanterra is redeveloping an entire block of Yonge St. south of Wellesley St. The proposed project will include two 58-storey condo towers and street-level retail that the developer says will inject new life into the tired-looking stretch of Yonge.
“The commercial on Yonge there does not serve the community well,” says Mandelbaum. “The people living in all the highrises on the side streets, they don’t need to buy $5 suitcases or perfumes, which is the preponderance of the stores there. What they need is a really good mix of retail.
“We need to recreate what Yonge St. used to be. It was once the walking shopping strip of Toronto, but it sort of lost that.”
Lanterra is also in the midst of planning a 1.2-million-square-foot project for the south side of Bloor, where the street curves between Sherbourne and Parliament. “It’s another example of us creating a new neighbourhood,” says Mandelbaum. “You could drive by 100 times and not know (the site is) there. It’s sandwiched between Rosedale and St. James Town.
“So we’re going to anchor the corner and fix that intersection.”
While Lanterra has seen much success over its decade or so in the development business, things haven’t always been so peachy.
The company found itself embroiled in controversy last summer after shattered glass fell from its Murano building near Bay and College Sts., as well as from the One Bedford property.
Several other companys’ condos were plagued by falling glass in the past year, and two class action lawsuits have been launched, including one against Lanterra.
“It’s our position that it’s a nonsense lawsuit and we intend to defend it,” says Mandelbaum, who stresses his company’s response to the crisis: Lanterra ordered the replacement of all tempered glass on the affected projects with laminate glass, at a cost of $1 million per building. All of its subsequent projects also will use laminate glass.
“We were the first guys to fix the problem and it cost us a lot of money,” he says. “But we did that because we wanted to protect our brand. We didn’t want to leave a building that forevermore people say is a crappy building. So we fixed it.”
In 1977, the first New in Homes section appeared in the Toronto Star.
Back then, most new homes were detached and built in the suburbs; today, condos have overtaken new home sales, both in the city and the 905 regions, according to a report byRealNet Canada.
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Gale Beeby, Real Estate Editor