It was 31 years ago when Toronto's western lakefront got its first waterfront condo -the Palace Pier. That celebration of luxury by the lake stood in splendid isolation for more than two decades.
Today the Etobicoke waterfront booms with life and activity. Innovative, imaginative projects have sprung up starting just west of the Palace Pier and its newer companion, Palace Place. They shimmer in grays and greens and march along both sides of Lakeshore Boulevard.
But those existing developments are just the prelude to a second wave of waterfront condos. A handful more will be launched this summer and major developers have already snapped up sites further west into what has been called "motel row."
In fact, the developers have even renamed the area Mystic Pointe, a lyrical label for a neighbourhood built on dreams of a rich lifestyle. As newer waterfront projects join the established ones, prices are starting to climb.
"The lakeshore area west of the Humber was originally conceived as a lower priced alternative to Harbourfront," says Eve Lewis, president of Market Vision Real Estate Corp. "That now seems to be changing."
Paul Golini Jr., executive vicepresident of Empire Communities, creator of the astonishingly successful Beyond the Sea community on the north side of Lakeshore Boulevard (the speed with which it sold surprised even him, he admits), agrees with Ms. Lewis.
"The first tower sold in the $360 to $380 a square foot range; the second tower was about $400 a square foot and our third tower, which is already 80% sold, goes for about $420 a square foot," he says. "We would love to do another similar project but frankly the land cost is just too pricey."
Emilio Testolin, senior vicepresident high rise for the Monarch Group, which has already built 4 towers at Waterview on Marine Parade Drive just south of Lakeshore West and will start construction on a fifth this summer, says its sixth and final tower, which will be released for sale this fall, will be priced at between $550 and $600 a square foot.
So what is the attraction in the western waterfront? It is a heady combination of lifestyle and location, say the experts. Those lakeshore condos offer a waterfront lifestyle far enough removed from the heart of the city for quiet enjoyment and a touch of nature, yet close enough so that within 15 minutes residents can be boogying in the Club district or dining along Queen West.
"Buyers told us Beyond the Sea was a hidden gem," says Mr. Golini. "It was right next to parks, within minutes of the waterfront and yet close enough to Mississauga that you could work there and still live 15 minutes from the heart of downtown Toronto."
Mr. Tesolin saysWaterview experienced the same phenomenon. "Commuting, even to the airport, was a breeze, they told us, because they were commuting against the traffic. Mississauga buyers figured this was the best of both worlds."
New projects are hoping to cash in on that broad geographic appeal and each seems to be defining the lifestyle it offers through the choice of name. Amexon Development Corporation for example is launching its South Beach Condos + Lofts at Lakeshore Boulevard and Park Lawn Road.
There will be twin, 28-storey towers, one in blue glass the other in green, topped by the stylized square arches that are the signature touches of some South Beach landmarks. There is the Shore Club and Ocean Drive lounge, with 40,000 square feet of amenity, lifestyle and fitness space. Then, right next door will be a retail walking street with 16,000 square feet of shopping-just like in Miami. At night it dazzles with blue, green and pink neon, the pastels that give South Beach its distinctive look and feel.
Suites range from 454-square-foot one-bedrooms through ones-plus-dens and twos to a sweeping, two-level, 2,170-square-foot penthouse. Prices start at $188,000 and rise to more than $1 million.
To switch coasts, Camrost-Felcorp, which has already created 1,300 units at Mystic Pointe, will unveil its new California project this summer. It will be 31 storeys tall and offer such eye-popping amenities as an infinity pool and a gym where residents can work out as they take in the shifting patterns of light and cloud on the lake.
Like previous Camrost-Felcorp projects, California targets singles and couples from their 20s to their 60s; what binds them together is a desire for an active lifestyle and waterfront views - all close to but not part of downtown. The mix of suites reflects the prospective buyers.
"What we have found works best in this area is 40% one bedrooms, 40% one-plus-dens and 20% two-bedroom suites, says Camrost president David Feldman. "That reflects both demand and affordability."