After years of painstaking preparation, careful archeological and environmental studies and diligent, deliberate planning, construction has begun on what is expected to be a downtown landmark.
Last week, crews started shoring up and supporting neighbouring lands in advance of a massive excavation from which, over the next several months, will sprout the highly-anticipated Matchedash Lofts development.
“It’s definitely exciting to see the work begin,” said Geoffrey Campbell, the managing partner of Oakleigh Developments, the company behind the ambitious condominium and retail/commercial project at the corner of Matchedash and Mississaga Streets. “We purchased in December of 2013 … and it’s taken time, but it was never a question of are we going to build this? We weren’t here to kick tires. We are here to build something that is part of the changing face of the city.”
The five-storey building will feature 76 condo units in a structure constructed to look historic and at home in Orillia’s heritage downtown. The street-level floor will boast about 4,700-square-feet of retail space and on each of the two floors above, there will be about 5,000-square-feet of commercial space.
For now, however, the focus is the condos, said Campbell. He is “thrilled” with response to the initiative; already 70% of the condos are pre-sold. “That’s phenomenal to get to that level within a year of opening a sales office,” he said. “To have a building permit within a year of sales is quite unique.”
Now that he has the building permit and site-plan agreement, the work will begin in earnest. After the shoring process is complete, a “bulk excavation” of the entire site will occur to a depth of more than 12 feet to make room for underground parking. “Once that’s done, we start forming the foundation,” he said, noting he expects to start pouring concrete in March when the weather becomes milder. That will take several weeks, he said.
While that work is taking place, other components of the building will be assembled off-site. “As opposed to traditional framing, which is building the building on site, we’re panelizing it,” said Campbell. “That means while we’re digging and while we’re doing the foundations, the entire building is being built in a factory in Stratford” and will be trucked to Orillia.
“It means the minute the foundation is in place, you’ll start to see panels arriving and they will go up in two-weeks per floor,” he explained. “So, once out of the ground, 10 weeks later we can be standing on the roof. It’s truly incredible.”
Once the roof is on, windows will be installed and crews will move indoors to complete the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and drywall. The hope is that before the end of this year, people will begin moving into their new condos.
The building’s brick exterior is meant to resemble “another Tudhope factory”, but its interior framing will be made of steel. Campbell said it’s better for fire protection and is more durable than wood. “It’s more expensive, but it creates a structure that is designed for longevity. We don’t want this building, a focal point of the downtown, in 10 years to be looking tired. It has to stand the test of time.”
That thinking is what informed the design, look and feel of the building. He said most developers would try to build a taller structure with higher density to squeeze the highest profit possible out of the site. “I compare it to a new golf course that has a beautiful layout but no mature trees,” said Campbell. “Orillia is a community with mature trees – it has the opera house, the waterfront, so many incredible character features. It would be counter-productive if what we put here didn’t marry seamlessly into that. That’s why we’ve designed it to fit in with the character of town. We want it to celebrate the heritage and character of Orillia’s downtown, which is one of Orillia’s best assets.”
With that in mind, the building was designed with walkability in mind. Campbell said the property has attained a “walk score” of 97 out of 100. “You can walk to get your groceries, to the market, the opera house, the waterfront – everything is right at your doorstep,” he said, noting the walkability score is the same as condos at Toronto’s trendy St. Lawrence Market.
But these condos, he quips, “are not your kids’ condos.” They are spacious as far as condos go. The average size of a condo at Matchedash Lofts is 1,073 square feet compared to an average of 606-square-feet in the GTA. “In the GTA, condos are a place to sleep. These are homes. Most have walk-in closets and taller ceilings.”
Because of those factors, Campbell says the bulk of buyers are aged 50-65. “We thought the demographic we would attract would be between 65 and 85,” he said, adding about half of the buyers are from Simcoe County and the rest from the GTA. “We’ve had a number of requests for kayak and paddleboard storage – that’s not something you’d get at most condos.”
Also unlike most condos is the lack of amenities typically associated with such projects. He said indoor pools and gyms translate into higher prices and higher condo fees but, more importantly, he noted everything a resident might want is just steps away. Campbell opted instead to focus on fine finishes, roominess and garden terraces. “On our second level, the garden terrace units make it feel like you have a backyard,” he said. And he is proud of the fifth-floor terrace which offers sitting areas, barbecues, fireplaces and sweeping views of the cityscape and the lake.
While Matchedash Lofts is beginning to take shape, Campbell is already thinking about about other projects planned for his new hometown. “I can tell you that 2018 will bring some pretty exciting announcements regarding Oakleigh and the future of Orillia,” he said, adding those will be related to not just residential projects, but to retail and commercial interests as well. “We’re not just here to build condos. We’re here to build things the City of Orillia needs.”
Campbell is bullish on Orillia’s future. He said the Downtown Tomorrow plan, a long-term document meant to steer development in the city’s core, was critical in Oakleigh’s decision to invest in Orillia. He believes the city’s investment in infrastructure – he mentioned Rotary Place, the library and new recreation centre – has paved the way for development.
“Unlike other municipalities …Orillia has been consciously investing in these things, creating an infrastructure platform for growth, which is a great thing,” he said. “I applaud city council for what they’ve been doing. The council we have now have been making great decisions in terms of setting up Orillia for the future. They’re not just chasing development they’re doing it in a structured way that actually shows planning, reasoning and thought.”
Thanks to the use of a drone, with Pixar-like animation and 4K technology, you can get a glimpse of what Matchedash Lofts will look like upon completion. Check it out here: https://vimeo.com/oakleigh/matchedashlofts