A scurry of people is criss-crossing paths in the newly renovated Yonge Sheppard Centre in North Toronto. Some are on their way to the subway; others are strolling toward rows of retail shops, lined up below glass facades that flood the space with natural light.
On the second floor, RioCan executives are preparing for a block party to celebrate the grand opening of the revived property, previously a dark and enclosed fort-like building with weaker foot traffic.
“It’s quite the transformation,” says Rosa Garofalo, general manager of the Yonge Sheppard Centre for the past 31 years. “The single most comment we are getting is that the centre is unrecognizable. It’s just so different, both cosmetically and structurally.”
This is the second renovation during her tenure as manager, one that took nine years and a lot more money with a $300 million price tag, compared to the previous upgrade that cost $50 million.
Constructed in the mid-1970s, the centre didn’t have much of an outside retail presence and most entrances were below or above the sidewalk.
“It really looked more like two office towers joined by a couple of banks and Winners,” says Garofalo, adding that the influx of people who moved into the area in the last ten years might have been surprised to learn there were 75 stores there at one time.
With this area of the city growing consistently over the years (more than 150,000 people now live in immediate proximity), it was time for a more urban approach to reflect the new demographics moving into the area.
Longo’s and LA Fitness, which both split a two-level, 100,000 square-foot-addition, are bringing in evening traffic. A future 36-storey, 361-unit residential rental tower and easier access to the two subway lines directly into the centre are also anticipated to increase the flow of people.
A major part of the renovation included extending the façade on both Yonge Street and Sheppard and building all entrances at street level. Upgrades also include new daycare space, updated facades of the two adjoining office buildings and a new food court area. Old items from the former food court were re-purposed and given to neighbouring schools and the Toronto District School Board office across the street.
“People from the surrounding office towers flock here for lunch,” says Garofalo. “Our food court has always been a strength for us and now it’s even bigger and there are so many more offerings than before. “
What was always viewed as a community hub for the neighbourhood is now an accessible shopping destination with a mix of old and new tenants that give it a mall-feel.
Last night, a custom art installation, designed along with local students from Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts, was unveiled at the block party. The art commission solidifies the close connection the centre has to its community.
“This specific centre has been a key pillar in the surrounding community for the past 40-plus years,” Jonathan Gitlin, president and chief operating officer, RioCan, said in a press release today about the event. “It’s one of Canada’s first mixed-use centres and has been a linchpin in North Toronto for its entire existence.”
Feature photo courtesy of Quadrangle