Sunday, March 22, 2009

Toronto's "Hidden Jem"

South Etobicoke has a lot going for it, but dismal Lake Shore stretch tarnishes it  By ROB GRANATSTEIN

Councillor Mark Grimes' $2 tour of south Etobicoke starts with a million-dollar view from Eden Trattoria, one of the few lakeside restaurants in the city.

"Look at that view, it's phenomenal," Grimes said, sitting down for a meal of veal panini at the water's edge.

When waterfront planners want to show off a perfect Toronto setting, they should use this spot -- a fresh, modern restaurant with a patio that's jammed in the summer, overlooking the blue water of Lake Ontario, with Toronto's skyline close enough to touch.

In between, runners, in-line skaters and walkers use the paths and sidewalks to enjoy Toronto's shoreline.

In addition to the already completed buildings, applications for four more buildings on this stretch were filed this past December.

It's no wonder this is the start of a dizzying Grimes tour.

An hour later, we've zig-zagged through both the great, and the greatly disappointing, between the Humber River and Mississauga -- a tour Grimes has probably given 200 times.

It includes million-dollar homes featured in House and Home magazine, the new, nearly-complete four-pad Lakeshore Lions Arena, where the Leafs and Marlies will practice, the new police college, the growing Humber College, state-of-the-art industrial locations, two GO Train stations and brilliant vista after brilliant vista along the lake.

So much building has gone on in the past five years, Grimes keeps a collection of shovels from groundbreakings in his office.

But most of Toronto doesn't know much about south Etobicoke. We hear about the Beach and send tourists to walk the boardwalk and shop along Queen St. E.

And yet Etobicoke's shoreline has a better view and tons of parks, although it lacks the sandy beaches and the thriving retail stretch.

And don't call it Beaches West.

This hugely disappointing stretch of Lake Shore Blvd. is what Grimes is determined to bring to life, but is still largely dead.

The Etobicoke councillor is a master wheeler-dealer for his area, but this is one tough nut to crack.

While a few new stores and eateries have opened up, the strip is still a combination of horrible planning, lacklustre architecture and parking lots (not to mention a grow-op that caused a fire late last week in one of the buildings).

Grimes can't get people to walk up the street to dine at their local restaurants. Instead, they drive to Bloor West, Port Credit, Sherway Gardens or downtown. Goodbye Starbucks, hello dollar stores.

"The money is here," he said. "We just have to get them up from the shore."

Toronto Life just named Long Branch, the stretch east of Mississauaga, as one of the city's next hot 'hoods, featuring well-priced houses young couples are discovering and buying.

It also points out the stretch of Lake Shore Blvd. evokes memories of the Junction, just before all the organic grocers and fair trade cafes moved in.

Patricia Zisis chose Lake Shore Blvd. for her new restaurant, Kalamata, and is happy with the results, so far.

"I think it has lots of potential," said Zisis, who opened her doors four months ago. "I'm hoping people will say 'let's go to the Lakeshore for dinner.' It's not happening now.

"This area is a hidden gem, so close to downtown, so close to the highway."

Zisis said the locals are delighted to have another good restaurant and hopes others will follow.

David Pritchard, who co-owns Birds and Beans cafe and coffee roaster with his wife Madeleine, loves his Lake Shore location, near the water, but admits this is part of Toronto time forgot.

"It's quite isolated, and a lot of people don't know about it," Pritchard said. "We're trying to overcome the reputation there's nothing good on Lake Shore."

The 13,000 new residents in the new condos along Marine Parade Drive, at the east end of the ward, have the bucks to make Lake Shore Blvd. viable, but they don't make it far enough west to see what's going on. The lack of population density across the rest of the stretch is also problem.

"It's a bit of a fortress," he notes.

Rather than shopping locally, people drive away. The local businesses are working to overcome that.

The other barrier is that the waterfront's linear park doesn't connect the new condos to that part of the Lakeshore because a couple of buildings refuse to give up their lakefront land for the pathway. That stops bike and pedestrian traffic -- and leaves a couple of parking lots steps from the lake.

That's the awful Toronto of old.

To make the $2 tour sparkle, Grimes needs a little help from residents and from businesses that believe this is a gem waiting to shine.


David Pylyp There will be a noticeable improvement in pedestrian and vehicle traffic with the new Lakeshore Rail Transit improvements from the TTC.  Hope fully the final opening of the Mark Goodman Trail will bring people further out to the west end and connect with the waterfront in Longbranch and Port Credit.

1 comment:

bettyb said...

Sounds like you really know this area and what's going on. It's nice to hear from agents that know their market. Also, sounds like a great place to live.