The unprecedented rise of Wilson Heights
April 10, 2019

In a city where opportunity and explosive growth have become the norm (Toronto is now home to more building cranes than any other city on the planet), it’s tough for a neighbourhood to stand out, but Wilson Heights is rising above the crowd, quickly becoming one of the city’s most vital hubs for investment, innovation, and growth.

That growth can be seen everywhere, from expanding transit, to parkland redevelopment, from booming employment hubs, to higher education within easy reach. All three levels of government recognize the incredible opportunity in the area, and, together, have committed more than $3 billion to its regeneration. Here is a look at what’s taking shape.

Development plans include the most ambitious collection of newly emerging master-planned communities in Toronto; the redevelopment of Downsview Park as a National Urban Park; an extensive network of new pedestrian and cycling trails; an ambitious Finch West LRT expansion that will see an 11-kilometre light rail transit line with 18 new stops; the addition of 42,000 new jobs and residents at the Downsview Lands; and the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension, that will connect Wilson Heights all the way to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (an area with plans for 36,000 new jobs and residents) in just seven subway stops, bridging the distance between Toronto and the GTA.

But nowhere is the astonishing potential of this neighbourhood more evident than in the Downsview Airport Lands (formerly the Bombardier Lands), an unprecedented 375-acre development opportunity set to become a city within the city. In 2018 the sale made headlines – a parcel of land big enough to create a true mixed-use development, a modern urban paradise that will open up amazing new opportunities for business, retail, housing, and leisure.

An article in the Financial Post highlighted the almost incomprehensible scale of the project (10 times larger than Liberty Village or Concord City Place), comparing it to New York’s Hudson Yards and Canary Wharf in London. At a glance:

Hudson Yards, NYC

  • Added 17 million square feet of new residential and commercial space
  • Home to 100 new shops and restaurants
  • Introduced 5,000 new residential units
  • Considered one of the largest private development projects in the recent past

Canary Wharf, London

  • Added 16 million square feet of office, retail, and leisure space
  • Home to 300 restaurants and 37 office buildings
  • Introduced 120,000 new jobs
  • Considered one of the most coveted business locations in Europe

The Airport Lands at Downsview dwarfs them both, ringing in at nearly 4x the size of Canary Wharf, and 15x the size of Hudson Yards.

In use as an airport, the site imposed necessary height restrictions on surrounding new developments, but when redeveloped, those restrictions will be lifted, reopening the current low-rise and mid-rise plans for the Downsview Lands and paving the way for astonishing growth. Current plans will generate 42,000 new jobs and residents in the area. With high-rise development, that number will skyrocket, presenting an opportunity of global scale.

Even before the development of the Airport Lands, the Wilson Heights community is already home to nearly 100,000 jobs with internationally recognized employers like Bombardier Aerospace, RBC Royal Bank, Humber River Hospital, Nestle, Randstad, and the TTC. The local business hubs around Dufferin, Keele, and Highway 400 are seeing, on average, double-digit employment growth, creating promising opportunities for professionals at every level and boosting the area’s already high average household income. And the development of Downsview Lands (five mid-rise communities) will add 42,000 new jobs and residents to the scene, followed by hundreds of thousands more when the Airport Lands are redeveloped.

Employers will find a wealth of highly educated eager young minds, fresh from York University and Seneca’s York U satellite campus, both located nearby. Today, over 50,000 students commute to the campuses, with an average commute time of 1 hour or more, and over 6,000 international students are on the hunt for rental accommodation nearby. The area’s highly anticipated new residential developments and the recently completed York subway station, will put Wilson Heights within a 10-minute subway ride from the York University campus.

The area is in high demand, with students (and their parents) willing to pay a premium for smart, well-designed rentals in this hub of connectivity and convenience. The subway is also just a 17-minute ride to St. George Station and The University of Toronto, putting Wilson Heights within easy access of some of the country’s most esteemed educational institutions.

In addition, the development of the Downsview Lands Aerospace Hub, led by leading aerospace companies and postsecondary educational institutions in the GTA including Ryerson University, introduced a state-of-the-art $70M facility for Centennial College last year, inspiring new generations to reach for the stars.

Between the Airport Lands, the growth at Lawrence Avenue & Allen Road, the Dufferin Street Revitalization, Wilson Avenue Revitalization, and the Yorkdale Redevelopment Proposal, Wilson Heights and the surrounding neighbourhoods will see hundreds of thousands of new residents, an extraordinary collection of new condominiums and homes, and millions of additional square feet of retail and office space added in the coming years.

This is growth and opportunity on an unprecedented scale. And in a city where the benchmark is already impressively high, this community stands apart. There truly has never been a better time to invest in Wilson Heights.

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