Toronto developer eyes 18-storey retirement home on Sparks Street

Sparks retirement residence
A rendering of the proposed retirement residence on Sparks Street. Provided.

A Toronto-based developer has announced plans to build an 18-storey retirement residence on a prime piece of downtown real estate owned by the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.

Reichmann Seniors Housing Development Corp. is leasing the property at 412 Sparks St. from the Cathedral Hill Foundation, a joint venture between the diocese and Christ Church Cathedral, which sits next door to the proposed new highrise. According to company officials, the residence is expected to include 152 rental units and will offer amenities such as exercise rooms, a formal dining room, an indoor swimming pool and a chapel.

Project manager Victoria Lucas said the proposal exceeds current height limits for the site by about 12 metres and the property must be rezoned to permit a retirement residence. Pending city approval, she said, the developer hopes to put shovels in the ground in the second half of 2020.

Cathedral Hill Foundation chair Barbara Gagne called the proposal a “lovely fit” for the site, which is surrounded by the cathedral and other heritage buildings but has served as a parking lot since a house on the property was demolished in 1993.

“It’s a (proposal for a) more residential community and not just another office tower that closes up at 5 o’clock,” she said.

The not-for-profit organization was set up in 2010 to provide a “stable, long-term revenue stream” for the cathedral and diocese by encouraging development on church-owned land on Sparks Street between Bay Street and Bronson Avenue, Gagne said.

That same year, the foundation inked an agreement with Ottawa-based Windmill Developments, which built a 21-storey condo tower and a smaller four-storey condo building on the western portion of the property. But the developer’s plans for a 14-storey office tower at 412 Sparks St. ultimately fell through, opening the door for Reichmann’s proposal.

“We’ve been at this a long time to make sure that we did it right and found the right partners,” said Gagne.

Revenue the foundation earns from developers is split evenly between the cathedral and the diocese. The money goes toward maintaining the historic church, which opened in 1873, and funding diocese-sponsored initiatives such as running community ministries and assisting refugees, she added.

Gagne said as attendance at traditional religious services continues to dwindle, churches must find new ways of supporting their congregations and surrounding communities.

“We’ve got a very large, active role within the city,” she said. “We have to be responsible to look for other places to supply the revenues that we need to keep moving."