Toronto Industrial Conversions Offer Housing Opportunities

March 22, 2022 4 Minute Read

Toronto Industrial Land Conversions Offer Lucrative Housing Opportunities

On the wall behind the desk in his home office, CBRE’s Michael Bellissimo has a framed picture of a painting, Stag at Sharkey’s.

The 1909 work by George Wesley Bellows depicts two boxers fighting in a club in New York City (fighters back then were known as stags). “I grew up in the west end of Toronto and this was a sport people did out here,” says Bellissimo, who also has a picture of Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo adorning his office wall.

The picture of Stag at Sharkey’s was a gift from Silvano Venuto, owner of Silvano Colour Labs. Years ago, Bellissimo helped him sell his factory on Weston Road so that the multi-floor building could be converted; it eventually became a self-storage facility. “It was one of first deals I did in the industrial redevelopment space,” Bellissimo says. “So getting that picture from Silvano really meant a lot to me.”

Michael Bellissimo standing in front of Stag at Sharkies

The picture reminds Bellissimo of the duty of care he has as a commercial real estate professional to do right by his clients. As Toronto undergoes rapid growth, there are pressures to maximize value and utility of all available space and land. Bellissimo specializes in finding solutions that support local businesses while helping them to maximize the value of their land and, in some cases, shift their heavier industrial operations to a more appropriate location for the times.

Having grown up in the area, Bellissimo has respect for the industrial businesses that have stuck around, like rubber plants, plastic bottle factories and car scrapyards. He is determined to find an outcome that takes care of the owners of these properties, helping them get the best return for their investment.

“My goal is to have everyone come out of these transactions feeling like a winner,” says Bellissimo. “These are solid and high-valued businesses and the right advisor can help them to be adequately compensated for their properties, which have been integral to the community’s growth.

“I can leverage the strength of the CBRE platform and our National Investment Team to ensure these private owners and businesses get access to the institutional level capital and associated developers they’re looking for,” he adds. “Meanwhile, those lands are freed up for housing. These infill opportunities often add vibrancy to the area and help support the growth of the community, and the potential upside for investors is substantial.”

The Starklands

The Starklands

A case in point is The Starklands, a site that Bellissimo and his team just put up for sale.

A community-defining development opportunity located in the Stockyards district of Toronto, The Starklands comprises an 11.16-acre site with 1.65 million sq. ft. of proposed gross floor area. The contemplated development, which has full site plan approval, calls for four mixed use-towers between 24 and 46 storeys, as well as three-storey townhouses.

The project will have more than 1,800 residential units — with a sizeable affordable housing component — and nearly 200,000 sq. ft. of office and retail space. The proposal also includes new onsite parkland, four new road connections and two new local roads, and facilitates greater access for a complete community with two privately-owned publicly accessible pedestrian connections.

The Starklands property will have access to the approved St. Clair–Old Weston SmartTrack Station and is within walking distance of an abundance of retail amenities and transit options.

"This is a great example of the ideal outcome we would hope for in a land conversion situation," says Bellissimo. "We only launched the property for sale a few weeks ago and so far, interest in the site has been phenomenal. It speaks to the demand for rare offerings like these."

There are further opportunities along this corridor. “After many years living and working in this area, we know which sits lend themselves most favourably to new uses and a second life,” says Bellissimo.

CBRE data shows that there are 500 acres of land available for similar conversions in the area between the Humber River and Bathurst Street, south of Highway 401 (this tabulation excludes all of the traditional industrial parks in the area.)

“People I grew up with would love the opportunity to live and contribute to communities like this in the west end,” Bellissimo says, noting there are an additional 800 acres that could get converted in the future. “If we can support the industrial businesses to relocate and free up land for new housing – it’s a great outcome for everyone involved.”

Everybody wins

Bellissimo wants others to enjoy the same success he’s been able to have in helping Benny Stark put The Starklands site up for sale.

A hometown boy with an industrial real estate background, he is the guy with the smarts and the strategy but also with the heart to see his clients to maximize the value of their properties that have served them—and the community—so well for so long.

“A boxer is focused, tenacious and leaves it all out there. I hope I’m a bit like that, but not in an aggressive way. I’m just fixated on solutions that make sense,” Bellissimo says. “It makes sense to me that we should get these businesses the best return on their property investments while making space for new families who can treasure this area as much as I do.”

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