This week we bring you the conclusion of our interview with Steve Gupta, President and CEO of Easton’s Group. In this segment we learn a bit more about the upcoming King Blue project, the theatre museum that will be on site, and get a bit of a peek into a proposed development currently in the works.
Mansoor Kazerouni of Page + Steele, an architectural firm that you have worked with on other projects, is the lead architect on the King Blue project. Can you tell us about your collaboration with Kazerouni, and what he’s bringing to the development?
Mansoor is the hotel expert! This hotel [the Hilton Garden Inn on Peter] and our other [255 Wellington] were both designed by Page + Steele, so I’ve worked with them in the past. Mansoor is very personable and hard working; almost like me! On the weekends when I think of an idea at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night I send it to him and nine out of ten times he responds the same night if not in the morning, in which case he apologizes for not having seen it earlier. I really enjoy working with him, he’s very creative. I gave him the concept of what kind of building I wanted and he has done everything possible that he can to put it on paper. He’s working on another project of mine that I’m aiming to do downtown, and so far he’s designed a beautiful building.
You’re also working with Remington Homes on King Blue, who have extensive experience in the residential market. What do they bring to the table for this project?
I’ve developed a couple of hotels with them where they owned the land. We did a joint venture where we were the construction managers as they hadn’t built hotels in the past. When I bought the King Blue site there were quite a few other developers who lost out; 19 developers bid and I was the fortunate one to get it. I chose to work with Remington for a few reasons: number one, they were my existing partner; number two, they have experience in housing and some condominiums; and number three, they have been small partners in a number of projects. This is a large project and they were eager to be included.
I was well known in the area and that probably also helped us get the site. Mr. Mirvish owned the site, and when he found out about me and what I’ve done in the area, he was very impressed from what I hear, saying he wanted to meet with me, and I loved that opportunity. Once I’m one-on-one, 99% of the time I win!
Let’s talk a bit about Theatre Museum Canada, which is going to be housed in King Blue’s podium.
We are fortunate to have the first real theatre museum in Canada headquartered in our project. 9,000 square feet on the second floor with a lobby on the ground floor, connected to the walkways and courtyard. I think it will be a great experience for people; the theatre museum officials are ecstatic. I had lunch with Mr. Mirvish and one of the theatre museum people, and Mr. Mirvish has agreed to lend his art collection for exhibition, which will be fantastic. He has passion for theatre, and without passion you can’t do anything. It will be a great addition to the Entertainment District; people will be able to buy a ticket and see these exhibitions that will bring different collections from all over the world. The space will not only serve as their headquarters, but will be available for receptions as well.
Is this space that you are donating to them?
Yes, we are. 9,000 square feet we are giving free to the City as part of the approval process, and we were willing to do that. I think it is a very good gesture on the City’s part to require this, a great way to encourage developers to give back.
The Theatre Museum people are trying to see if they can also include a theatre bookstore, something that is apparently quite difficult to do. The idea is to bring something different.
In terms of additional retail, we will have 13,000 square feet on the ground floor. We may also use part of the second floor, adding an additional 20,000 square feet. We are trying to bring some high end boutiques, something that is currently lacking in this area. We want our residents to have quick access to quality retail, and this will be just down the elevator for them. This area has lots of money, so why should they have to travel somewhere else if they want to get something nice? If we set a trend with 5, 7, 10 stores, I think it will spread. We have enough restaurants in the area already, and we want to bring in some neat niche boutiques. We also want to create a space for childcare, something that hasn’t been done yet. For families that move into the building we want to provide a service for them if they want to go out to dinner for 2, 3 hours without the kids. We look into these different areas and see what is missing.
Everybody provides the kitchen, the stove, the sink and the shower – you have to think outside the box, come up with something that people want and that is currently missing.
Does King Blue signal a new direction for Easton’s Group? Do you see more projects like it in the future?
Absolutely. There are currently three more projects that I’m working on. I work to create and achieve something like a legacy, something that will be there for a number of years. I built this hotel for people to come to one hundred years from now. I used the strongest, best concrete; I put maximum strength in these structures so that they are here for good. If the premium is so small I would rather put it in the structure, instead of in the carpet. In the end I’ll put it in the carpet too, but when I build a shell I invest in better quality windows, insulation, lighting, focusing on strength and energy-saving features. All of the condominium projects that we will do we will do that. I’m sure other developers do that too, but for us it’s more about passion than just money. Business is always about money; what we want to do is to add value, so that our great-grandchildren can look at these projects one day. I believe that being a Canadian, a citizen of this country that has been very good to me — and that a lot of immigrants should feel proud to be a part of — I feel that this is my small contribution back to Canada, for providing me the opportunity that it has.
Can you speak to these other three projects that you’ve mentioned are currently in the works?
I can – we are working on two buildings located at Jarvis and Dundas; one is 44-storeys and one is between 30 and 35-storeys. We will cater to a little bit lower price range than we have at King Blue, creating more affordable units that are right on the Dundas line, close to the Eaton Centre and steps from downtown. I believe that Jarvis Street, so close to Yonge, will flourish one day, which is why I bought that hotel, which is a real story unto itself. It had been closed for 7-10 years, and the federal government was heating and cooling it at our cost — tax dollars hard at work! I also have a midtown project in the works and I can’t reveal its location just yet, as well as one in Vaughan. All these projects are two to three multi-storey buildings.
Are you planning to keep the condo-hotel concept in all of these projects?
Yes. What it does is provide a service to young professionals who don’t have a lot of free time. We’ll look into providing a variety of services, different from other projects of a similar concept, bringing our personal touches to the developments.