Honest Ed's will soon have a new owner. David Mirvish has signed a deal to sell the site of the discount retailer at Bloor and Bathurst streets to Westbank Properties of Vancouver.
Mr. Mirvish, the current owner of the property and son of the late "Honest Ed" Mirvish, confirmed Sunday that Westbank has the property under contract, with a deal that will close later this year.
"They are very thoughtful and I am very pleased that they are the successful bidder for the property," Mr. Mirvish said. "We will be continuing to operate Honest Ed's for a considerable period of time while they determine what their plans are."
Specifically, he estimates the approvals process will take two to three years; the store, which opened in 1948, will remain in place during this time. In July, Mr. Mirvish quietly put the site – which includes the store, adjacent properties on Bathurst Street, and the converted houses on Markham Street known as "Mirvish Village" – up for sale.
"Families and businesses evolve," Mr. Mirvish said. "My family moved his business from Dundas Street to Bloor Street; I'm moving our business from Bloor Street to King Street."
That is a reference to his development project dubbed Mirvish Gehry, a proposal designed by Frank Gehry that would include three condo towers of more than 80 storeys each, retail space, space for OCAD University and a private museum for Mr. Mirvish's collection. The project would require the demolition of four listed heritage buildings, and substantial zoning changes. Mr. Mirvish has been in talks with the city's planning department for nearly a year without gaining their support; he will be taking the project to the Ontario Municipal Board in January.
Mr. Mirvish has been outspoken in his advocacy for this project. He says that the Honest Ed's sale will provide capital for this "and for all of what we do," and "it allows me to concentrate my thoughts in one area."
Westbank, led by Ian Gillespie, is one of B.C.'s most prominent development companies; its focus is on residential, hotel and office buildings. Its most notable projects include the controversial Woodward's redevelopment on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and the Shangri-La Hotel complexes in both Vancouver and Toronto.
Mr. Mirvish said he chose Westbank, as opposed to other bidders, because of its quality of design. "I think that from 1941 to about 1980, we raised the neighbourhood" at Bloor and Bathurst, he said. "Since 1990, the store has not taken the area to the next notch up. I think it's time to pass it on to someone who has the creativity and the energy to do that."
Westbank's projects tend to deliver a high quality of architecture and design, and are generally aimed at the top end of the market. Mr. Gillespie explained in an October interview that quality architecture and urbanism is a point of principle and also of his business strategy. "We think if we create something that has a lasting design integrity to it, that we will create value for doing it," he said. "When we go into a community and do a great piece of architecture, the other developers are forced to raise their game."
Last week in Vancouver, Westbank won approval for Beach & Howe, a development that will place a mixed-use building with a complicated form alongside and under the Burrard Street Bridge. The architects on that project are the Bjarke Ingels Group, an innovative design firm based in Copenhagen and New York. BIG is also designing Westbank's Telus Sky highrise project in downtown Calgary.
Previous reports have linked Westbank and BIG to a possible development in Toronto, next to the Shops of Don Mills Centre; that project is not going ahead.
Westbank would not comment on the possible involvement of BIG or about the specifics of the site
The Honest Ed's site is one of the largest potential development sites in Toronto, and Westbank will face serious scrutiny as it proceeds with redeveloping it. "They have a lot of energy and a lot of vision," Mr. Mirvish said of Westbank. "I think they don't have preconceived ideas" about Bloor and Bathurst. He links the project explicitly to his own ambitious and controversial King Street project. "I believe … something very exciting could happen in this neighbourhood. There are very few opportunities to bring this size of land together and do something creative with it."