Becoming a World Class City: Vaughan

Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Perspective Vaughan Globe and Mail
Sixteen office, residential and mixed-use developments are completed, underway or proposed in the VMC, including the PwC-YMCA building (foreground), which will be home to PwC, Scotiabank, and a new community centre.
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Growth in the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre is exceeding expectations, fueled by an unprecedented vision and new subway station.

The City of Vaughan is an amalgamation of two towns and three villages that lacked a shared downtown. Planning began a decade ago to create a core to stitch them all together. That accelerated when it became official that the TTC would extend its subway service to Vaughan, making for the first connection outside Toronto. A secondary plan for the 179-hectare Vaughan Metropolitan Centre – at the intersection of Hwy 7 and Jane Street – was adopted by Council in 2010.

The plan calls for 12,000 residential units, 11,500 jobs, 1.5 million square feet of office space and 750,000 square feet of retail space by 2031.

“Our objective is to build a world-class city that encompasses good urban design and public spaces that foster community well-being. The VMC is at the heart of achieving this vision,” said Christina Bruce, director of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Program.

“It is fast becoming the vibrant heart of the city – economically, culturally and physically. It is truly mixed-use density, highly urban and walkable, and benefits from the amazing potential to enhance the natural amenities that already exist,” said Bruce.

New Park Place Vaughan
Pedestrians walk along New Park Place in theVaughan Metropolitan Centre with Expo City, the home of Niagara University, in the distance

Engaging the senses

The VMC is designed to inspire residents, to bring out the best in people’s experiences in the city, says Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua. That includes trails, parks and green spaces, civic gathering spaces, cultural amenities, visionary architecture, and a tightly knit and walkable street network of shops, restaurants and patios.

“It’s about engaging people’s senses with amenities that provide a memorable and beautiful experience in everyday life.”

Growth in the VMC has exceeded expectations. Residential development is already at 164 per cent of the residential unit target, with office, retail and employment numbers right on track. It’s all fuelled by the arrival of subway
service, along with regional and rapid bus service. These numbers continue to increase regularly. Close to 15,000 daily commuters move through the VMC Subway Station, which delivers commuters to York University in five minutes and to Union Station in 45 minutes.

The VMC’s vision is unprecedented, said Bruce, especially at the scale of intensification being achieved on lands where low-density commercial and industrial uses once ruled. “Literally, our city’s skyline is changing by the week.”

Attracting employers

The VMC’s first office building, the 15-storey, 365,000-square-foot KPMG
Tower at SmartCentres Place, is fully occupied with approximately 1,300
employees, 800 of which are KPMG employees. Other tenants include Miller Thomson LLP, GFL Environmental Inc. and Harley-Davidson Canada Inc.

BMO moved into two floors of the KPMG Tower in May, to house a team of more than 60 people in a co-location that brings personal, business and wealth offerings together. Vaughan is the fifth national rollout of the concept.

“We are quite excited to be there, given what we see as the prospects for the VMC. We want to be where our customers are and have an opportunity to go above and beyond for them – we have an opportunity to do that here,” said Julie Barker-Merz, Regional President of Greater Toronto Region, Personal Banking, BMO Bank of Montreal.

“There is so much development all around us and the VMC will evolve quite
dramatically over the next few years. We wanted to put a stake in the ground that says this is a growing market and we want to be on the ground floor of it as it grows. Vaughan is the perfect location for us.”

Sixteen office, residential and mixeduse developments are completed,
underway, or proposed in the VMC. That includes the PwC-YMCA
building, opening for office tenants this year and as of next year will be home to a state-of-the-art YMCA, along with a new Vaughan Public Library
branch, performing arts studios and a community kitchen.

“When I became Mayor in 2010, people said Vaughan couldn’t compete with Toronto in office developments,” said Bevilacqua. “But I always believed that we could attract firms into our downtown core because we have a lot to offer. With office towers now fully leased the demand for office space in Vaughan is growing. The Vaughan Advantage is a powerful magnet and our location is extremely attractive to forward-thinking companies.”

Making History in York Region

Bevilacqua made it his mission to land a university for Vaughan and to locate it in the VMC. Cities are built on anchors, most essentially in health and education, says the Mayor.

When an opportunity to bring a York University location didn’t materialize,
Bevilacqua was not deterred. He turned to Niagara University, based in Lewiston, New York. It’s a bi-national university, with about 5,500 of its graduates working in education in Ontario.

Bevilacqua says after a number of meetings with university president
Reverend Father James Maher it was apparent to both that Vaughan would be the right place for a Niagara University campus that would centralize Ontario offerings in one location. With focus, discipline and commitment Bevilacqua, in partnership with Father Maher, delivered an important educational anchor to the community.

York Region’s first university campus opened in January in the Cortel Group’s Expo City. More than 300 students are enrolled in either a bachelors of professional studies or a masters of science in education: educational
leadership program.

Vaughan is becoming a world class city!

“The Vaughan site provided greater learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom. Being embedded in the community allows the university
to build pathways for service and professional experience for our students,
faculty and staff,” said Maher. “And it’s a great opportunity for us to be part of the VMC, which is growing and has so much to offer.”

Subway service and great highway access played a big part in Niagara University’s decision to relocate to Vaughan, says Maher. But the city’s diversity and upward trajectory were the lynchpins.

“We feel so blessed, honestly, to be here and to be part of the great things
happening in Vaughan. There is a great quality of life and people are so
proud to live here. There is no better advertisement for us than happy students and we think our students will be happy here.”

Bevilacqua says Vaughan will soon announce further ventures with postsecondary institutions.

“I think bringing Niagara University is a great example of what can be
achieved through the power of discipline and focus. There are no shortcuts on the road to success. It requires the desire to achieve and the determination to serve the greater public good.”

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