Universal City development to add pizzazz (and a piazza) to Pickering’s city centre

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Published September 22, 2021 at 11:32 am

Hannibal Smith of the A-Team was fond of saying, “I love it when a plan comes together,” but the Colonel was a man of action and may not have had the patience for Pickering’s long-term plan – now many decades in the making – to create a real downtown in the city on Toronto’s eastern edge.

Pickering suffered the fate of many bedroom communities around Toronto during the last half-century: as the mega-city grew, so did Pickering, but it was mostly houses for people working in Toronto.

Pickering is now a city of more than 90,000 people and many of its residents work in the community as well, pressuring civic leaders to try to bring increased intensification and a more urban vibe to its city centre. The striking City Hall and several high-rise buildings and downtown-style townhouse communities in the vicinity gave it a good start but Mayor Dave Ryan knew the city needed a showpiece development to move the needle along.

He may have found it with the Universal City condominium development, which is south of Highway 401 but still in the official City Centre district. Universal City, which is being built by Chestnut Hill Development (also the new naming-rights holder of the downtown Rec Complex, the first such marketing deal in Pickering’s history) will be six buildings in total when finished and will be located on the north-west corner of Sandy Beach Road and Bayly Street.

Phase One is already under construction, with a 27-floor, 275-unit building expected to be completed early next year. Preliminary work is also underway – shovels in the ground are expected soon – on Phase Two, which will have 336 units and features a distinctive wave-like design.

Both phases are already sold out.

The project was first brought to the attention of Pickering Council in the spring of 2018, said Planner Isabel Lima, who noted the proposal dovetailed nicely with the Province’s 2006 Places to Grow document, which called for greater intensification in regional hub cities like Pickering and Oshawa.

“The development of the city centre is supposed to be higher density so we are serving more people,” she said, “That’s the goal of a city centre.”

Phase Three is a 30-storey high rise building that is expected to be completed by November, 2023. The showpiece that Ryan was looking for will happen when Phases Four (46-storeys) and Five (54-storeys) are built, likely in 2025 or early 2026.

These unique structures – designed by Toronto-based Kirkor Architects & Planners – will be joined together by a four-storey podium and will 860 square metres of commercial/retail on the ground floor and a public piazza space and public park.

The two buildings will contain 1,064 luxury condo units.

They also required a change in the City’s maximum height by-law, which was 38 storeys.

The final phase – Six – will house 313 units.

Many of the buildings will feature amenities like a 24-hour concierge in the lobby, lounge, billiard room, party room with lounge, kitchen, bar and boardroom, pet spa on ground level, landscaped outdoor pool and sunbathing deck, yoga room, fitness room and guest suite.

Parking will be available underground and in some cases on the roof.

The project already won awards before it even got off the ground, with Universal City winning gold (marketing) and silver (community of the year) at the 2020 North American Home Builder’s Nationals in Las Vegas.

Ryan, for his part, welcomes the development and was enthusiastic about when he spoke at an Urban Lands Institute webinar earlier this year.

“We’ve never had a downtown in Pickering and that is about to be corrected. The area around our municipal complex and the Pickering Town Centre will be transformed.”

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