With City Centre now largely built out, costs are rising to meet Toronto average

From Friday's Globe and Mail

If you ask anyone in the real estate industry, they'll tell you Mississauga's city centre is unique in Canada. If you want a parallel, they say, look at Los Angeles.

"What sets it apart is that it has its own real downtown now," says George Carras, president of RealNet Canada Inc., which tracks all forms of residential construction in the Greater Toronto Area. "It is like Los Angeles in that it is a suburb that has become almost self-contained."

By that he means not just its own live theatre, its own fine dining eateries and club life but also its own solid core of high-rise condominium communities equal to downtown Toronto. People can now live within easy reach of where they work, party and play.

Its popularity is evident from the statistics. At the end of August Mississauga's city centre — bounded by Burnhamthorpe Road to the north, Mavis Road to the west, Hurontario Street to the east and Central Parkway to the south — tied for second spot with downtown east as the busiest submarket for condo sales.

"It is really astonishing when you consider Mississauga City Centre is the smallest of the GTA submarkets we track," says Mr. Carras. "There are eight projects completed, eight more under way and two in the launch stage."

Astonishing as well when it comes to prices; the average selling price was $358 a square foot, compared with $548 in downtown west and $457 in downtown east.

"And it has all happened in just the last 10 years," says Mr. Carras. "Before that, Mississauga was where you built single-family suburbs for people who commuted to Toronto.

The transformation from bedroom community to booming self-contained city — the sixth largest in Canada — comes down to the vision and will of Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, says Barry Lyon of N. Barry Lyon Consulting Ltd.

"It used to drive her crazy when people said they were going downtown and meant they were driving into Toronto," he says. "She decided she was going to create a downtown for her city that would keep them at home."

To do that she convinced city council to give great freedom to developers willing to build condo communities in what had been earmarked as the city's core. The centrepiece was the Square One shopping centre, the new city hall and a planned live theatre.

"But what really convinced us to start building there in 1998 was research that showed more people drove into Mississauga to work each day then left it," says Jim Ritchie, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Tridel Corp. "That meant there had to be terrific demand for an alternative to traditional low-rise, suburban housing."

Tridel built Skymark 1 just south of City Centre at Highway 10 and Eglinton and it sold so well that it built a second tower.

"Based on the Skymark success, we did Ovation at Duke of York and Burnhamthorpe in September, 2001," he says. "Again, that did so well that we have followed up with four more projects since then."

Davies Smith Developments was another early builder in Mississauga's core. The company has built 1,400 suites to date and they have sold exceptionally well, says Renee Bourgon, marketing and communications manager.

"Of the two projects we have on sale now, for example, there are only 10 suites left at our Solstice project and only 80 at our latest one Onyx," she says.

"What helped initially was that council didn't set any height or density restrictions and encourage high-rise communities. Besides, at that time, land to build on was not only affordable but plentiful as well."

Mississauga condos had to be different, though. Condo projects had to offer all the recreational bells and whistles and had to rival downtown Toronto in suite design. One of the basic premises was that these new high-rise communities would help free residents from the tyranny of the automobile.

You might have to drive to work still, but it would be a much shorter commute and when you got home you could park the car and walk to your in-house fitness centre or swimming pool. And if you could not exactly stroll to your favourite restaurant or club it would be no more than a 15-minute drive away.

Does City Centre still have legs? Yes and no, depending on who you talk to. Some developers say all the available land is gone. Others like Mr. Lyon say there are still plenty of building sites available — just look at the strips of low rise territory occupied by fast food franchises.

Then there is the area surrounding City Centre; lots of sites there, he adds. What is more, the planned new light rapid transit line for the Highway 403 corridor and a rapid transit link connecting Port Credit with Brampton is certain to boost demand.

But, at the same time prices are certain to rise.

"You can't build in that area now for less than $450 a square foot," says Mr. Lyon. "Mississauga is catching up to downtown Toronto."

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