New homes planned in 50-story addition to Cambridge Suites

The cutting-edge concept that the Cambridge Suites hotel brought to downtown Toronto in 1990 will get an innovative update with plans for a 50-storey building above the original 21-storey building .

This is the current proposal to transform Canada’s first all-suite hotel into a 71-story mixed-use residential structure at the corner of Richmond and Victoria streets.

“It was owned by a family, who also owned the office building next door,” says Alan Vihant, chairman of Elan DEV Group, development advisor to the hotel’s current owner, Centennial Hotels Ltd. “They felt that because it’s (on the outskirts) of the financial district, people needed short-term accommodation for a month or if management teams were brought in for three or four days, they would would feel more comfortable in a sequel. That was part of his initial success.

Vihant and his team are excited to reinvent hotel ownership. They originally considered demolishing the old building and replacing it with an entirely new structure, but using the existing hotel as a base will prevent a huge amount of concrete from being landfilled, significantly reducing emissions from carbon. The redevelopment – which includes plans for a green roof and more than 500 spaces for bicycle parking – will serve as an example of how existing buildings can be adapted to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.

“We started seeing other cities around the world and across Canada where they’re doing this,” says Vihant. “It sounds more complicated than it is. Basically, it’s cutting out one hotel room per floor to create a new hallway for an elevator that piggybacks onto the existing core. We’re adding perimeter columns ( to support the new tower above) Everything works.

“Easy sites are gone,” adds Vihant, forcing developers to work on more complex sites or repurpose old buildings. The hotel has a direct connection to the downtown PATH underground system and is within walking distance of six subway stations, including Union Station. It’s in the Downtown East neighborhood, in one of the city’s oldest communities, which is rapidly intensifying with skyscrapers, commercial and institutional buildings, and many older buildings being revitalized. The Cambridge Suites proposal aligns with provincial and municipal policies favoring the intensification of underutilized sites in urban areas served by upper-tier transit.

“When you look at Victoria Street, many existing buildings are over 20 stories, but you need to build much higher to make that feasible now, given the cost of land and the current housing crisis,” says Len Abelman , partner of WZMH Architects – the firm that designed the original post-modern Cambridge Suites building.

The new generation of architects in his studio are reinventing the hotel designed by the previous generation at WZMH. “Why not put these taller buildings downtown, where there are subway stations and a connection to the PATH system, to create a place where people don’t need a car? It makes a lot of sense to put some density here. This is a good place to step up.

NOW: The current 21-story hotel was built in 1990 and was an innovative design that offered full suites.

The suite hotel was not originally built to accommodate another building above it, Vihant explains. However, RJC Engineers found it a good candidate for the planned addition of a “pencil” tower on top.

“We are removing the partitions and reconfiguring the floor tiles. We had to reconfigure the mechanics and the electrical to install new, more energy efficient systems and there will be a whole transition to low voltage systems that use much less electricity,” says Abelman.

The building will have a high podium, which will make it fit well with the existing architecture on Victoria Street. “There are many 20-story buildings in the neighborhood and the historic massing of the buildings is recognized.” The redeveloped Cambridge Suites building will have a staggered rectangular grid of light-colored aluminum panels interspersed with metal mullions and transparent window panels, allowing WMZH to put creative flair on the exterior.

The process will unfold as follows: the existing roof will come off, two new mechanical floors will be added, as well as a transfer slab. Forty-eight new floors will take place on the transfer slab. The interior of the building will be stripped down and the existing floors extended to their full extent over the widest section of the building. The old facade will be replaced with a new thermal facade as well as bird-friendly glass. The lowest transition floors of the new tower and its west side will be set back to sculpt the tower, then balconies will be added.

Left to right, Len Abelman, principal of WZMH Architects, and Alan Vihant, president of Elan Dev Group, gaze at the downtown Toronto skyline from the top of the Cambridge Suites hotel.

The penthouse containing the main mechanical elements will be integrated into the design of the building and with tall aluminum columns and spandrel glass panels to create a distinctive tower top. In addition, there will be approximately 41 square meters of green roof and, underground, 571 bicycle parking spaces.

“The city has moved to a higher bicycle parking standard and adopted zoning policies like you see in the United States,” says Vihant. “He wants to reduce cars in the city center,” he added, referring to the dominant, tiered public transit available downtown.

Vihant says new technologies are also emerging that will change the way people can park their cars, including in underground garages in office buildings that empty out at night.

Plans for the former hotel at the base of the project include condos or rental units, Vihant says, and the developer has asked the city for some flexibility in determining those uses. With ceilings of only eight feet, the rooms are no longer desirable as hotel rooms. But since they’ve been designed as larger suites than typical hotel rooms, with separate living, dining, and sleeping areas, they’re suitable for residential use. When the hotel was built, there were very few condominiums in the area, says Vihant, but that has changed dramatically in recent decades.

FUTURE: The design calls for the building to open onto Victoria Street, at the north corner of Richmond Street, with more windows and additional retail outlets.

The project will also bring new retail businesses to the streetscape.

“The original hotel had a very pristine facade and had a few businesses on Victoria Street,” says Vihant. “We are trying to add more retail businesses to Richmond. Victoria Street is at the rear of the house, with a driveway shared with an office building. We are trying to add more glass on the Victoria Street side where it touches the ground, as the building should liven up the street. We’re keeping trade north, and it’ll be more welcoming.

Among the many goals of the redevelopment were the aesthetics of the new design: to keep the existing structure and new tower simple, yet beautiful.

“One thing that is unique is its finesse,” says Vihant. “It only has a floor plate of 540 meters, which is smaller than most residential buildings. We try to achieve something with timeless elegance.

NOW: The hotel and its facade were innovative additions when built 32 years ago before the downtown condo boom.

Cambridge Suite Project

Location: 15 Richmond St. E., on the edge of the downtown financial district and within walking distance of six TTC subway stations

Current stage: Ask before the city. Meets provincial and municipal intensification goals.

Developer: Centennial Hotels Ltd. ; Development consultant: Momentum DEV; Architect: WMZH Architects

The description: Redevelopment of a 32-year-old 21-story all-suite hotel into a 71-story mixed-use development by constructing a 50-story pencil tower with a total of 565 units.

Green features: New thermal facade with bird-friendly glass; green roof; energy efficient heating, air conditioning and lighting; 571 bicycle parking spaces.


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