Dundas West’s infamous Giraffe building has a new owner
Anyone who has passed through the intersection of Dundas West and Bloor has definitely seen it: the Giraffe building, with its mottled yellow-and-brown paint job. It’s hard to miss. The two-storey structure acquired its garish exterior about a decade ago, when a developer converted it into a sales centre for the Giraffe Condos, a proposed 27-storey tower.
But the development never came to pass. Instead, the building has spent most of the past 10 years boarded up and vacant. The increasingly decrepit 2,000-square-metre property is at one of the city’s best-connected corners, adjacent to a subway station and the UP Express, making its unloved state all the more baffling. The site has become a perennial curiosity—a lone spot of blight in a rapidly developing neighbourhood.
Now, at last, there are signs that change is on the way. In late March, the Giraffe building sold to a new owner, a company connected to a developer called Trinity Group. According to land registry records, Trinity Group’s company, Devtrin (Bloor) Inc., paid a total of $35 million for the Giraffe building and three adjacent properties. Trinity declined to comment, and they haven’t yet filed a formal development application for the site, but the eye-popping sale price suggests that another condo proposal is on the way.
The major reason the original Giraffe proposal never came to fruition was that Toronto’s city planners deemed it far too massive for the site. The original developer, TAS Design Build, acquired the property through a private partnership in 2007 for $6 million and filed an application to build a 29-storey condo tower, later reduced to 27 storeys.
At the same time, the city moved to restrict development at the intersection by passing new zoning and official plan amendments that limited new construction on the Giraffe site to 10 storeys. And there were technical complications related to the way vehicle and pedestrian traffic would flow around the new building. Gord Perks, the city councillor whose ward encompasses the Giraffe building site, was involved in the negotiations. “The problem with the site was that it’s very constrained,” he says. “The tower would have to come right to the corner and go straight up on both sides. We don’t do that next to a sidewalk.” TAS appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board and lost, after which the project quickly deteriorated.
Ali Saneinejad, TAS’s vice president of development, says his company tried and failed to appease city planners in informal meetings after the OMB decision. “We turned it into more of a stubby tower, maybe 10 to 15 storeys,” he says. “We thought that would satisfy their concerns, but ultimately the city dug in its heels.”
“There’s a certain amount of density needed to make these projects feasible, and what the city was asking didn’t work at that time,” Saneinejad says. “We were forced to abandon the project.”
In 2012, the TAS partnership sold the Giraffe building to Main and Main, an offshoot of First Capital, a major retail landlord. Main and Main sat on the property for a few years, then began buying adjacent land. Between August 2015 and April 2016, the company closed on 1542, 1548 and 1550 Bloor Street West, a continuous row of shops to the west of the Giraffe building. When Main and Main put the Giraffe building on the market as part of a larger sell-off of its assets in Toronto and Ottawa, it was able to offer all four properties at once: not only the Giraffe building itself, but those three adjacent properties. Trinity Group bought the entire package.
And that’s what may make the difference this time around: Trinity Group is working with a lot more Bloor Street frontage than the Giraffe building’s original developers had at their disposal. The wider lot could allow a tower to sit a few metres back from the intersection, potentially alleviating the city’s concerns about crowding the sidewalk. Because of the extra space, it’s possible that Trinity Group could negotiate a tower taller than 10 storeys.
When and if something does happen on the corner, it will be long past time. “I am desperate to get somebody to bring in a reasonable proposal on that site,” Perks says. “It has bothered me for a decade now.”