When word dropped Monday that Great Gulf has taken over David Mirvish’s two Frank Gehry-designed towers, many observers were shocked.
But those intimately involved with the deal insist it’s good news; the project will go ahead as designed by one of the planet’s leading architects and envisioned by Toronto’s leading impresario.
“I’m thrilled,” says Mirvish. “We spoke to about 50 different groups from around the world and it was wonderful to find that the best fit was right here in Toronto.
“I have no doubt that this is exactly what Great Gulf wanted. They spent seven months studying it. They’re going to get it going. They’re also going to explore some new things that will be nice.”
Chris Wein, president and CEO of Great Gulf, is equally excited by his acquisition.
“We will be taking over the two towers entirely,” he explains. “I’ve been working with David for the last 18 months. He’s a lovely man. He will be involved as a consultant. He wants to see his legacy fulfilled. We’ve developed a good relationship with Frank Gehry as well. We’re very excited to be working with one of the greatest architects of our time.”
Though both towers have been approved by the city, many issues remain unresolved. Wein doesn’t expect construction will begin until the first quarter of 2019.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of time with the city. We’re working with them to figure out how we’re going to deal with various details.”
Mirvish retains ownership of 322 King St. W., the warehouse on the northeast corner of King and John, as well as the Royal Alexandra and Princess of Wales theatres. The second floor of 322 will house the Mirvish Gallery, which will display work from Mirvish’s extensive art collection. The Ontario College of Art and Design University will occupy space in the east tower.
“It’s all very positive,” says Mirvish’s development manager Peter Kofman. “David is still a part of things. His vision and enthusiasm to do something great remains 100 percent intact. But it’s a huge project and there are only a few developers in Canada big enough to handle it. You need to have that kind of a powerhouse at the table.”
When Mirvish launched the project in 2012, it included three towers atop a very elaborate, very Gehryesque, podium. The city planning department responded to the scheme with appalling hostility.
Then chief planner called the design “trite” and wondered whether Mirvish could be trusted not to pull “a bait and switch.” Eventually, the plan was reduced to two towers — 92 and 82 storeys — and given a green light.
For his part, 88-year-old Frank Gehry — born and raised in Toronto before moving to California with his family in 1947 — remains committed to the project. Though he designed an addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2004, the Mirvish scheme will be his first fully realized scheme in his hometown.
Best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry has completed work around the world.
“His architecture is truly an attraction,” Wein says. “Something about what he does really attracts people. I believe the project will excite people around the world and locally. It will be an international address. I really hope we can create a centre of gravity within this location.”
As Kofman makes clear, “We didn’t bring Frank Gehry to Toronto to do something insignificant. In the beginning a lot of people didn’t believe it could happen here. Frank is super-happy about everything. It’s like a homecoming for him. He’s still fully involved.”
Though some worry the site is too small to accommodate such an ambitious proposal, Wein dismisses such concerns. “This part of Toronto represents the future and the past. What we’re designing is the heritage of tomorrow.”