It has been a west-end staple for 40 years, but the Galleria Shopping Centre could soon become a condo-shopping tower
There are days when Maria Morgado will climb up to the roof of her Wallace-Emerson home to get an unobstructed view of the city. In clear skies, the resident of 40 years can see over buildings and treetops, as far as a little school off in the distance.
But that view could soon change. With developers vying to zone the site of the Galleria Shopping Centre for mixed use with both residential and commercial units, the neighbourhood could be home to yet another of the city’s towering condo-shopping hubs.
“Everything seems to be going up,” Morgado laments.
This Saturday, residents like Morgado voiced their concerns about the Galleria’s future at a public consultation. Held at the infamously dated mall and hosted by ELAD Canada and Freed Developments, who purchased the site in August 2015, the consultation was the community’s first formal opportunity to comment on potential land developments.
Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport), who was also in attendance, says the chance to address concerns about developments can make a difference in the long run. “We have a lot more responsibility,” she says. “It’s one thing when developers come in with a plan that is done and we criticize it. It’s another thing when we actually have the power to feed into that plan.”
No plans have been distributed to the public, which gives residents hope that there is room for compromise. “If we can petition and get it 14 storeys as a max that’d be great,” Morgado says.
Meanwhile, store owners are crossing their fingers that new developments will preserve space for existing retailers.
Jason Brar, who has run an accounting office at the mall for two years, is among them. “We were wondering how it’s going to work for us when they start building,” he says. “But they’re not sure yet.”
The developers maintain that they are willing to collaborate. “We don’t come up with a plan and then do a show for the city,” ELAD Canada CEO Rafael Lazer says. “We’re here to actually talk to the people.” He adds: “Our vision is definitely to try to increase, expand, at the very least maintain the same level of retail that is currently here.”
But ELAD Canada’s current vision for the site is hazy: Lazer stresses that the company does not yet have a clear plan for the site. ELAD Canada plans to issue its first proposals to the city some time this summer.
The Galleria Shopping Centre was developed in the early 1970s, and was considered for mixed property development as early as the 1980s. In 2004, City Council granted approval for a phased mixed-use commercial residential development containing 1,600 residential units in six buildings, but long-time leases held by some retailers in the mall allegedly led to phasing issues.
Along with maintaining retail space on the site, new opportunities for Ward 18’s changing demographic are emerging. A large arts community has also popped up, with Toronto’s popular Long Winter, an inter-arts festival, using the Galleria Shopping Centre as a venue for an upcoming event. Councillor Bailão notes that the stretch of Dupont Street that passes through Ward 18 has seen seven or eight galleries open in the past year.
“One of the questions we have to ask is: How do you revitalize the community by maintaining some of the characters and things that we love about it?” Councillor Bailão says.
Long-time community members echo Bailão’s sentiments, hoping that developers will preserve the essence of their neighbourhood. Even after the consultation, the Galleria is full of smiling shoppers, those who don’t mind the old mall’s outdated quirks. It is more than just a place to shop—it is a hub for community.
And though Morgado’s hesitations about upward development—and maintaining those beloved clear skylines—are not uncommon, preserving a sense of unity after Galleria’s closure will be the most onerous task for both residents and developers.