CWNA meets: Use laneways for hi-tech, media start-ups, not city hall’s high-cost plan

Harrison Lowman –

Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association (CWNA) members are skeptical about proposals that would see Downtown Yonge St. act as a breeding ground for start-up businesses, citing unwarranted and soaring rent prices that will scare off entrepreneurs.  The city  is in the middle of neighbourhood consultations regarding changes to streetscape and retail conditions between the waterfront and Davenport Rd.

“I don’t see how Yonge St. rents can be low enough to make that an attractive option,” says CWNA development committee co-chair Bob Fabian.

According to a 2011 Yonge St. Planning Report by KPMB Architects and Greenberg Consultants Inc., certain Yonge St. landowners requested that the city, “Redefine the area as an exciting digital media centre.”  The report’s authors also recommend the city, “attract quality high-tech retailers and entrepreneurs.”

In September, The Bulletin reported that Downtown Yonge BIA executive director Mark Garner would like to see Yonge act as an “incubator centre” for start-up businesses housed in the area’s empty second and third storeys, and pay reduced rent.

According to Fabian, sky-high tenancy still demands sky-high prices.  He says Yonge St. does not have the soil that would allow start-up tech industries to take root.

“The high-tech world tends to move to centrally located but relatively low-cost spots,” he says.

Fabian says residents should look no further than the MaRS Discovery District at College and University where the not-for-profit corporation, meant to foster successful businesses within the science, technological and social realm, often has a difficult time coaxing innovators because of their high rent costs.

The net leasing cost for a 1,665 square-foot property (ground floor) at 435 Yonge St. is $62 per square foot.  The net leasing cost of a 2,000-square-foot property (second floor) at 330 Yonge is $39 per square foot, not includingmandatory other costs.

Fabian says the city should be turning toward Church St. “The combination of the kind of slightly funky Church Wellesley neighbourhood, together with Ryerson makes a kind of attractive home for the slightly off-beat high-tech entrepreneurs, especially the media entrepreneurs.Fabian says the focus should be  given to the city’s overlooked laneways, which allow for more affordability and experimentation.

“If we had the right kind of push behind various laneways, we could have an Italian restaurant laneway, or we could have a book laneway, or we could have a C.D or multimedia laneway,” says Fabian. He adds that Europe has made effective use of its laneways, filling them with restaurants and art shops.