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September 10, 2010 | Lauren Ferranti-Ballem | National Post
"I had no problem jamming a hard hat over my curls or trading my ballet flats for steel-toed boots. Stepping into a hoist elevator — one of those rickety wood-and-metal boxes you see attached to a steel spine, rising up on the exterior of condos under construction — that was a different matter altogether.
Up I went. I held on where there was no handle, did not raise my gaze from boot level and tried my best to breathe as we made our way noisily, ungracefully and painfully slowly all the way up. The condo in question is the Festival Tower, the residential side of the building of the moment, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox. Our final destination: the 46th-floor penthouse.
On this day in mid-August, the sky was a perfect, cloudless blue and there was mercifully very little wind as we stepped out on to a south-facing balcony. There’s not much I recall, numb as I still was with fear, and my hand trembled so violently I couldn’t keep notes. But I do remember the view. It was stunning and spectacular and made the trip up (almost) worth it.
From its position at King and John streets, in an area thick with condo towers, Festival exists inside an odd, almost eerie clearing — no other building can block this southern view.
“You see that in the distance?” says Tom Dutton, senior vice-president of Daniels Corp., the project’s developer, as he gestures to what looks like a faint cloud hovering over Lake Ontario. “That’s the mist rising up from Niagara Falls.”
As at this point the four penthouses are little more than concrete and glass, there’s nothing to see but the city on all sides. To the north, Will Alsop’s Ontario College of Art and Design looks like a box of matches. And as I connect the dots — the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Film Board, the CBC, Roy Thomson Hall and theatre row — I realize how utterly well-placed this building is.
“This is where the arts intersect,” says Bruce Kuwabara, the project’s architect and founding partner of KPMB. “Maybe there’s another location for this, but I can’t think of a better one.”
Some 50 years ago, the land upon which the Lightbox and Festival Tower now stand, was purchased by post-war Czechoslavakian immigrants, parents of Canadian film director Ivan Reitman. They operated a dry-cleaning business, and then a car wash here. When TIFF was on the hunt for its new home, Mr. Reitman and his sisters donated the property in honour of their parents. The other piece of the equation was the developer John Daniels, president and founder of Daniels Corp. He was one of the first benefactors to TIFF before it was TIFF in the 1970s.
“Ivan [Reitman] calls this interconnectedness kismet,” says Mr. Kuwabara, “the way things all seem to align to create good fortune.”
This good fortune is far reaching. With 98% of Festival suites sold, residents will enjoy an exclusive three-year film fest membership, which includes such perks as private screenings and preferred pricing to more than 100 Lightbox events a year. For inspiration on the mix, Mr. Kuwabara looked to New York City, where condo towers are well-integrated with cultural destinations, like the ones built into Carnergie Hall and the Museum of Modern Art — occupants there can relish privileged access to Matisse and Pollock, away from the common folk. “This is a city of film — the festival is embraced and well attended by Torontonians,” Mr. Kuwabara says. “Residents will become a part of the story of this building.”
For a bit of distance from the hoopla, they will find their suites from the condo’s entrance on John Street (whereas the Lightbox opens on to King) where they can tune into the TIFF closed-circuit TV channel. And since streamlined Miele kitchens favour fancy over function — penthouses excluded, the only ovens are of the convection-microwave variety and fridges are a fraction of standard ones (“They’ll have very small Thanksgiving turkeys,” Mr. Dutton says) — hunger pains can be answered by a quick call to one of two Oliver & Bonacini restaurants below. Straddling King and John, O&B’s casual Canteen and fine-dining Luma are just another part of this “vibrant hybrid of residential, cultural and commercial components,” Mr. Kuwabara says.
Ordering up a lobster burger with cucumber slaw from Luma is just one of the celeb-style à la carte services guests will enjoy. With the help of the resident services director, they’ll also be able to arrange for housekeeping, dog walking and spa services in the building’s private treatment rooms. Those rooms are part of the Tower Club, amenity space that spreads over the 10th and 11th floors of the building and includes the 55-seat Tower Cinema, designed after the five hyper-modern screening rooms in the Lightbox — sleek, black, silent and sealed cocoons. There are three lounges, the main one opening on to a landscaped outdoor terrace and bar area within prime paparazzi range of TIFF’s outdoor terrace. And to help balance all those O&B meals, there’s a fitness centre, yoga studio, outdoor meditation garden and an indoor pool room with hot tubs, saunas and a dramatic floor-to-ceiling waterfall.
Sumptuous amenities, slick suites, sweet views and an important cultural institution (and perhaps a Clooney sighting) right next door — residents are in for quite a show.
First comes the film festival, then occupancy — by the end of November, the first residents are expected to move in. Lucky for them, they’ll have a proper elevator, too."