Presenting: Toronto’s Distillery District – A Unique Vision and 13 Acres of Historic Victorian Industrial Architecture Create One of North America’s Hottest Entertainment Districts

On the south side of Case Good Lane the “Case Goods Warehouse”, which houses “Artscape”, a collective of artists and artists’ studios, many of whom provide live demonstrations of their crafts, from hat making to ceramics to clothes design. Many of the working studios in the district are open to the public and Mathew explained that many of these artists demonstrate their crafts and actual processes to interested onlookers.

As we were completing our loop Mathew showed me the original millstone, imported originally from England in 1832, which was part of the first mill in the district. We walked by the sales office for the Pure Spirits Condominiums which are going up just west of the historic Distillery District. Mathew indicated that this project is helping offset the costs of redeveloping this historic district and the majority of the condos were sold out within a week, simply because of the desirability of their location, right next to door to one of Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse entertainment districts.

The original millstone from 1832

Talking about real estate and architecture, I was particularly interested in the rehabilitation process that turned 44 run-down, outdated industrial buildings into one of the hippest entertainment districts in all of North America. Mathew said that the revitalization project was difficult and very costly, but in just about 18 months they turned 13 acres of obsolete unused industrial carcasses and more than 40 buildings into a visionary project that has become the trendsetter for industrial rehabilitation all throughout North America.

The smokestack of the Boiler House

Mathew explained that the more than 100 tenants at the Distillery represent every field of arts, culture and entertainment, including the various restaurants and eateries, galleries, retailers, performance theatres and even educational institutions which include a day care centre, the Distillery Early Learning Centre, George Brown College and the Voice Intermediate School. What motivated him and his partners to even to consider this project were his visits to other international destinations where he wanted to explore the city not as a tourist, but to experience it as the locals do. And when you go to the Distillery District you will not see any touristy shops or souvenir or t-shirt vendors. Instead you will find top notch arts, culture and entertainment at every price point, and you can enjoy a whole day in this venue, even on a shoestring budget.

Pure Spirits Building

Cityscape selected their tenants very carefully. They did not want chain stores and franchises in their complex and decided to forego some often lucrative leasing offers. Instead they deliberately set out to attract high quality tenants with unique products or service offerings and a real passion for their craft. Mathew added that they wanted to combine big city sophistication with small town charm and likens the end product to the SOHO of the 1960s. He and his partners wanted this place to be a melting pot of disciplines and an incubator of new ideas.

Wildhagen Hats – Cold Weather Perfect

According to Mathew, key to the success of this project was the fact that Cityscape and Dundee Realty are able to retain control of this project and carry out a consistent vision from start to finish. What distinguishes this project from other neighbourhoods is the conscious choice of tenants that reflect the developers’ dreams of creating a one-of-a-kind centre of culture, arts and entertainment in a unique historic setting. The Distillery District has definitely succeeded and become the trailblazer for industrial revitalization projects all through North America.

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