In Conversation With… Benjamin Bakst, CEO, Marlin Spring
Creative and innovative housing is the order of the day in the GTA these days, with land availability, housing supply and affordability all an increasing focus for industry and consumers. For developers, this means making the most of prized locations, and bringing forward-thinking and imaginative housing options to market. Marlin Spring, with a portfolio of low- and midrise and mixed-use projects in west end Toronto, Oshawa and other locales, is one such company. CEO and Co-Principal Benjamin Bakst explains.
HOMES Magazine: How are things progressing at your Symphony Towns in Oshawa these days?
Benjamin Bakst: Our team has developed a fantastic relationship with City staff and our neighbours. The plans were created with much of their feedback and we are thankful beneficiaries of that input. What started with the concept of a blank canvas populated with townhomes has now become a plan for a vibrant, unique parkside village. Our sales and marketing teams felt the name Symphony would express more than just a tie-in to Harmony Drive; it would also give the feel of a development that blends well into the neighbourhood while maintaining its individuality.
We’ll be revealing more about the project in the coming weeks with sales starting very soon.
HM: The city received some challenging news last year, with the planned closure of the GM assembly plant. What new opportunities does the city have to grow beyond this long-time focus?
BB: We aim to look forward and assess opportunity, and the City of Oshawa has long been focused on diversifying its economy and providing knowledge-based employment training and options. Manufacturing may have been the centre of all things Oshawa in the past and in the minds of those not living there, but what’s really happening is growth in many sectors, including health, educational services and other emerging areas which now represent more than a quarter of Oshawa’s total employment base – and growing. GM was great, Oshawa is greater.
HM: What are some of the things about Oshawa, and about Symphony specifically, that will contribute to the city’s continued reshaping?
BB: Symphony is taking a piece of Oshawa that is near and dear to a lot of residents’ hearts. It sits on the site of an old school, Dr. F.J. Donevan Collegiate Institute, that was there for many years. We’re building well thought-out prairie-modern style townhomes that complement the existing homes as well as speak to current trends in exterior materials and colours. We’re also creating a big open park which will be gifted to the city for everyone to enjoy. This unique feature will be visible from Taylor Rd. and sure to be enjoyed by our homeowners as well as the broader community.
HM: The Stockyards District Residences in Toronto’s west end is another exciting project you have on the go. How is it progressing?
BB: The Stockyards District Residences is one of my favourite projects at the moment, and our team is working diligently toward the start of construction this summer, as sales have proceeded extremely well. It’s an exciting project for us in a fantastic neighbourhood full of hidden gems. The more I learn about it and get feedback from our clients, the more excited I am to see the finished product. Not long ago, some didn’t understand the vision. No one questions it now.
HM: That area is really on the upswing, with lots of new commercial and residential development connecting with local history. How do you see the neighbourhood progressing or changing in the foreseeable future?
BB: There’s a lot on the horizon in this area. The upcoming closure of the space currently occupied by Maple Leaf Foods and a number of other developments (including another one yet to be announced by Marlin Spring, just east of the Stockyards District Residences) over the next while will mean significant population increase and a continued growth and vibrancy to the existing streetscape and retail along the St. Clair West corridor. Another fascinating phenomenon is the transformation of older buildings in the area. The Symes Event Space and Rainhard are great examples – that building was originally a Toronto waste incinerator – fast forward to today, and it perfectly demonstrates the potential in this city. Both our partners and clients entrust and rely on us to always be looking forward.
HM: How do the Stockyards District Residences reflect the history of the area? Are there any specific design elements, for example, that speak to the Stockyards heritage?
BB: Our joint development and marketing teams, along with the award-winning team at Graziani & Corazza Architects, did an amazing job utilizing the industrial aesthetic of the area as inspiration for the architectural elements of the building. It carries a lot of (expensive) brick and black metal on the exterior, and has very interesting step backs and shape that not only give the building character, but also allowed us to design a lot of unique suites. Many of our owners will have a one-of-a-kind suite, which we are thrilled to be able to offer.
HM: Affordability is a key challenge for housing in the GTA these days. What is Marlin Spring doing to address the issue – in either of these projects or elsewhere?
BB: Our multi-family residential property division is intently focused on this need, and to this end have purchased and currently asset-manage many thousands of apartments across Canada and the US. We see this as one of the greatest challenges facing our city, and have prioritized purchasing units in the GTA, investing time, effort and resources into these buildings to bring them up to 2019 standards and beyond. This generally allows us to maintain lower rental rates than purpose-built rentals. In addition, on our development side, we have multiple projects within which we are building affordable homes. These include our Canvas Condominium project, currently under construction, as well as our Lakeshore project, which is in the development stage.
HM: What’s next for Marlin Spring?
BB: What I am most excited about at the moment, is the upcoming formal launch of our Marlin Spring Foundation. I cannot share details at the moment, but our internal team is aware of our plans and is so supportive and excited!
- Canvas Condominiums Danforth Ave. and Woodbine Ave. Under construction
- Citron Towns in Richmond Hill Leslie St. and 19th Ave. Registrations only
- Stockyard District Residences St. Clair Ave. W. and Jane St. Now selling
- Symphony Parkside Towns in Oshawa Taylor Rd. and Harmony Rd. S. Registrations only
- The Mack, Parkside Towns Major Mackenzie Dr. W. and Hwy. 400, Vaughan Final release
- WestBeach Queen St. E. and Coxwell Ave. Under construction