Lifetime changed Liberty Village

Lifetime changed Liberty Village

Back in 2004, when Lifetime Developments purchased the industrial property that it eventually transformed into Liberty Market Building— a 300,000-square-foot complex on East Liberty St. with offices, studios and retail space that’s become the hub of Liberty Village —not everyone was convinced of the neighbourhood’s potential. “At the time we acquired the site, a lot of people said to us that they didn’t see Liberty Village the way we saw it, that they didn’t expect things would turn out the way we expected them to,” recalls Lifetime vice president Brian Brown.

Once the base of many of Toronto’s major industrial operations —including Massey Ferguson and Inglis— Liberty Village has over the past decade morphed into a trendy community of condos, lofts, converted office spaces and accompanying shops and restaurants. “It’s a real success story,” says Brown, who considers his company one of the neighbourhood’s pioneering builders, along with Liberty Village’s master plan developers CanAlfa, Plaza, the Monarch Group and Lanterra Developments. “It’s been talked about outside of Toronto as a great model for taking an area that’s been underdeveloped and underutilized and transforming it into an attractive and unique place where people want to live.” Whereas Lifetime initially had trouble selling commercial tenants on the virtues of the Liberty Market Building, today, Brown notes, there’s a waiting list for office space at the complex, which houses design, media, technology and marketing firms, as well as nearly a dozen restaurants and a range of other retail offerings. “It’s been hugely successful,” says Brown, noting that the building currently has a six per cent retail vacancy rate.

Just to the south of Liberty Market Building, Lifetime is finishing interior work on Liberty Market Lofts, an eight-storey brick-and glass condo at East Liberty St. and Hanna Ave. The project — built in conjunction with its affiliate BLVD Developments— has 290 lofts (most of them two-floor units) that range from 750 square feet to 1,290 square feet, with 17-foot-high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies or terraces. The development is nearly sold out, with only four penthouses remaining, priced from $449,990. Occupancy is slated for December.

Liberty Market Lofts has been designed as a live-work building and includes a business centre with meeting rooms, residents’ lounge with wet bar and kitchen, landscaped courtyard, fitness centre and an indoor basketball half-court; there’s even a dog-washing station. “For us, this has really been about creating a community in Liberty Village,” Brown says. “That’s what we’ve been able to do with our office and retail space and the live-work units. “These projects can survive on their own, but they also give back to the broader village.” Lifetime acquired the site that would become Liberty Market Building in 2004. While that was only eight years ago, Liberty Village— bound by King St., Dufferin St., the Gardiner Expressway, and Strachan Ave. — looked vastly different than it does today. “It was certainly hard to see the future potential of the village,” Brown says. “But we knew about (CanAlfa’s) master plan for the area and that there was going to be a lot of growth and that East Liberty St. would eventually connect to Strachan. So the building was an opportunity for us to pick up a piece of property in an area we thought would have a great boom.” The site previously had been used for warehouse and industrial purposes. “It was not a pretty looking building,” Brown says. Lifetime restored the original brick facade and the factory-sash window frames. “We thought we could do something really cool and really interesting that would pay homage to the history of the neighbourhood.”

With all properties to the west of the building zoned for employment and everything to the east zoned for residential development, Lifetime envisioned the Liberty Market Building serving as the central hub of the new neighbourhood. The developer overhauled the second and third floor of the building, bringing in new services and creating authentic loft-office spaces. The goal was to attract “high-quality” tenants, Brown says, but the existing building occupants weren’t forced out. ” The ground level was completely revamped to create retail store fronts across the base of the building.

Among the first tenants were a hair salon, dance studio and the Brazen Head Irish Pub. The Liberty Market Building has also attracted a host of trendy eateries, including Merci Mon Ami, Bar Vespa, Locus Lounge and Pastalicious. The recent opening of Claudio Aprile’s Origin Liberty Village generated quite a bit of buzz among local foodies. “When you’re able to sit in a restaurant like this,” says Brown over lunch at Origin, “it kind of reinforces the vision we had. “It shows how we’ve taken a real community approach to this development.”

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TStar – Lifetime changed Liberty Village – (Nov 3 2012)

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