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Hey, stars - welcome to our (model) living room

The Bisha hotel and residence in Toronto, prospective TIFF party site.

When Matt Damon and John Legend arrive on Saturday evening to help host an intimate Toronto party for ONEXONE, the Canadian foundation that raises money for children around the world, they will likely feel as if they've just stepped into someone's ultra-luxurious home.

What to expect at TIFF 2010 From big-name stars to red carpet premieres, the 35th annual Toronto International Film Fest has a lot to offer cinema fans.

Except that the setting, located near the Toronto International Film Festival's new Bell Lightbox, is neither a private residence nor an event space. It's a presentation sales centre for Bisha, a forthcoming hotel and condominium development.

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The connection benefits everyone. Event organizers will get a beautifully designed party space. The developers get to promote their product to hip, affluent potential buyers - and any stars who show up lend their cachet to the development.

Perhaps that's why the same arrangement is unfolding just north of Yorkville, where another condo sales centre, for Pears on the Avenue, is being taken over by Toro Magazine, public-relations firm NKPR and local catering company Catering With Style for four nights during TIFF.

The sleek glass-enclosed space, formerly a car dealership, will morph from a gallery environment showcasing Caitlin Cronenberg's curated series of New York Times photographs to a swish milieu for Artists for Peace and Justice, a charity spearheaded by director Paul Haggis (dreamy actor James Franco is this year's co-chair).

Some of the most memorable TIFF after-parties have unfolded in unconventional venues. The secret subway platform under Bay station, the roof of a parking lot in Yorkville, an old church and the cavernous rooms of Casa Loma have all served as invitation-only retreats for starlets and A-list insiders.

It seems, however, that 2010 marks the year of the sales-centre soirees.

"Every year, people are looking for the next new thing," says Charles Khabouth, who is making the transition from club king to hospitality impresario as one of the developers of Bisha. "[This]feels homey rather than a party in bar or club or restaurant; you feel like going to someone's residence."

With all the trappings of a members-only club or posh apartment in Paris, Bisha boasts a lacquered black bar area, custom-upholstered columns with corseting details, deep velvet sofas and glass sculptures galore. The goal: to entice prospective residents with a glimpse of the lifestyle they will be buying into when the building is completed, about three years from now. Or, at minimum, plant the name in the heads of hugely influential people such as filmmakers and celebrities.

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Khabouth admits that he wanted the 5,500-square-foot space to be ready in time for the festival. "It was a strategic move," he says, noting that Tribute magazine will also call Bisha home for a night. He is making the sales centre available at cost (as opposed to any of his restaurants or bars, which have significantly higher overhead), but says he will be very selective in choosing his event partners.

To be sure, this is not the first year that condominium sales centres have moonlighted as late-night hangouts. In 2008, the U.S.-based E! Channel threw a glam gathering inside the lavish model suite built to showcase the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences.

But since then, the number of high-end presentation centres has increased and with them the potential for a stylish change of scenery. (Incidentally, both Bisha and Pears on the Avenue have been designed by the same Toronto firm, Munge Leung.)

"I think often we don't look outside the box - we're looking for actual venues and not thinking we can use any big space as a venue," says NKPR's Natasha Koifman, who has been organizing TIFF events for the past 12 years.

If there is any downside to parties in presentation centres, it's that they typically lack restaurant-calibre kitchens. "They aren't set up for commercial use, so while they can be a nice luxury departure from the norm for small events, past a certain size the functionality is limited," says Ryan Heil, managing partner of LIVEstyle Entertainment, a New York-based company that produces exclusive cast dinners and junkets at film festivals around the world. This year, he is setting up shop at the Windsor Arms Hotel with Craig Hopson, the executive chef from New York's Le Cirque.

But Khabouth has factored this into the construction of his sales centre, from the 2,000 square feet of open space that can accommodate industrial ovens and can be used for food prep to the large rear doors that can accept deliveries. "We're built to do 500 to 600 people on 24 hours' notice; we just need to rent the equipment," he says, noting that there's even an extra cooling system on the roof to handle large groups.

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As for Pears on the Avenue, Dee Gibson of Catering With Style will be setting up a tent in the parking lot, thus eliminating the need to use the model kitchen.

Khabouth says there was never any debate about going to such lengths (and well into the millions spent) to create a space that will ultimately come down as soon as construction begins. As he sees it, the attention to detail will remain permanent in people's minds.

"These presentation centres are getting better and better every year," says Koifman. "You would want to live there so you would want to throw a party there."

Now, if only someone could convince Matt Damon to move in.

Update: Matt Damon will not be appearing at ONEXONE's evening event at Bisha. He will be attending a ONEXONE luncheon at Ame that day.

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