In Conversation With Vince Santino, Senior Vice-President, Development Aoyuan Canada
Condos are king in Toronto and, increasingly, elsewhere in the GTA, and one shining example is M2M, an 8.6-acre master-planned community from Aoyuan at Yonge and Finch in North York. When complete, M2M will be a fully-integrated, live-workplay neighbourhood with 1,650 residences, a community centre, daycare, 180,000 sq. ft. of retail and office space and a new public park.
Developer Aoyuan International set out with a master plan and smartly designed suite layouts to provide a variety of living options for families at different stages of life.
We spoke with Vince Santino, senior vice-president of development for Aoyuan Canada, for an update on this signature project, and what might lie ahead for the company.
Condo Life: How are things coming along at M2M?
Vince Santino: Sales of our first phase began in June 2018 with a very successful launch, selling out the north tower. We released the south tower in February 2019, and the response was the same. We’re very pleased with the results to date. People want to be in North York.
We’re on track to begin construction in late Q2 of this year, or early Q3, and we’re looking forward to receiving our first homeowners for our first phase, which includes both towers and our lower suites, in late Q2 of 2022.
CL: What is it about North York that is so appealing?
VS: For one, it’s still within the 416, and when buyers are looking for a condo, they’re looking for convenience and being close to amenities. North York offers it all. Where we are situated, it’s very close to transit, the TTC and GO Transit, but also very accessible to all the major highways.
CL: Who are the typical buyers for this project?
VS: We’ve seen a lot of end users. They’ve been the majority of our buyers, whether they’re young couples, young families or downsizers… many of them have grown up and raised families in the area. They love it and don’t want to leave.
CL: What have you learned about development – delivering on your customers’ needs and wants – since launching this project?
VS: People want convenience. Even though they’ve made the decision to move into a condominium space, they want amenities that they don’t need to necessarily get into a car to get to. And they want choice, in the type of suites, with efficient design where space isn’t wasted, and to maximize utility at a price they’re willing to pay. They’re happy to pay for a bigger suite… our larger suites, our two-bedrooms plus den or three-bedrooms… we’ve designed them very efficiently. So, for a younger family, or someone who’s downsizing, they don’t feel like they’re sacrificing by getting into a condo.
CL: At M2M, you’re not just building a condo, you’re building an entire community, all with easy access to transit, which is increasingly key these days. How import ant are all of these inclusions in appealing to family living in condos?
VS: We’ve got more than 100,000 sq. ft. of office space planned, 8 0,000 sq. ft. of retail… that gives any family all the necessities, literally at their doorstep. Our site is complemented by really good restaurants, shopping, proximity to schools, universities, and we’ve got a future daycare conveniently located within the development that gives the younger families a key service that helps reduce the stress of the day-to-day commute and a busy family life.
The community centre, along with the public park that we’re going to construct as part of the development, provides families with options for better quality of life year-round, just footsteps from you. And because you’re in the 416, you’re close to transit, reducing your commute time, all of that time can be spent enjoying these amenities, spending that time with your family. It isn’t always so conveniently accessible in other developments, so this is really a one-of-a-kind opportunity, because of the sheer size and the amenities we’re providing.
CL: How do you foresee the condo market in that area performing in the next three to five years?
VS: We’re feeling very, very bullish. If you look at what’s been happening in the midtown area, Yonge and Eglinton, and up to Yonge and Sheppard, this is just a natural progression. We’ve seen a lot more launches in North York in the last year, and more coming into the market this year, and the area is starting to undergo a renascence, and over time people are going to continue to choose to be in North York. It tells us that buyers still want to be within the 416, but they have no problem not necessarily being in the downtown core, as long as they can get to it and the rest of the GTA conveniently.
CL: Affordability is a key concern for homebuyers in Toronto. How is Aoyuan addressing that issue, in how it plans and delivers its communities?
VS: The reality is, in the last little while, traditional lowrise homes have become more unaffordable and more out of reach for families. For us, providing well sized, even of the smaller units, are designed with the utility and growing families in mind. It provides people with an alternative. As for M2M itself, delivering those things, all in a masterplanned community, and not just a couple of towers in the middle of nowhere, it’s a great example… we’re trying to give people everything they need, moving into a space that isn’t perhaps traditional for younger families.
We’re taking the opportunity to intensify in an area of the 416 in North York where people want to live because of all of the existing amenities, and all those other elements. It gives our customers a lifestyle that offers it all, really – easy access to schools, transit, universities… people don’t feel like they’re giving up a lot, but the value they get by living in this area makes the affordability challenge a little easier to bear, especially for a young couple or young family moving into their first home.
CL: For some, affordability is a key reason for choosing a condo, but what are some of the other reasons families might consider a condo in the city, versus a lowrise home in the suburbs?
VS: A condo in the city helps with the cost of transportation, as it’s a significant expense for any household, so with the option of public transit, it means families may not need to purchase a vehicle, or a second vehicle. You’re reducing the commute time, and for families working in the city, it allows them more time to spend with their children, parents or grandparents. The city provides families with a lot of choice – where they shop, work and play – and there’s everything around, especially where we are in our setting.
CL: What have you learned – be it about development in Toronto or family-centric condos – from M2M, that you will use in future projects?
VS: Listen to the needs of your buyers. It’s refreshing to try things that maybe haven’t been at the forefront of condo development in the past. There’s a significant segment that wants living in the sky to provide the options, flexibility, amenities and opportunities that in the past attracted families to traditional lowrise homes, and the more we’re able to build those amenities in the sky, it becomes more and more attractive.
CL: What’s next for Aoyuan in the GTA?
VS: The future is bright for us here. We’re not limiting ourselves to condos only, and it speaks to our mantra of building a healthy lifestyle in trying to build complete communities. We’re looking at all kinds of other opportunities across the GTA.
Certainly, we’ve got Phase 2 at M2M coming, and we’re going to continue to build on what we’ve seen has been very successful for Phase 1, but we’re not limiting ourselves to one building form or type. We’re looking at a lot of opportunities, in and around the 416 and the 905 as well. Stay tuned.
Yonge and Finch