Mirvish, whose father "Honest Ed" was a discount retailer who moved into the theater business in the 1960s, is now Canada's largest private theater producer. Mirvish is also a former art dealer and a significant collector of American and Canadian abstract painting and sculpture. His new private gallery would feature works from his holdings, including paintings by Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Frank Stella. He envisions it as a boon for residents in the Gehry buildings, who would enjoy special access to the museum and events.
That amenity and Gehry's architecture will be useful assets to the developer. Mirvish is proposing 2,600 condo units spread over the three buildings—a large number even for the bustling real estate market of downtown Toronto. Housing here has been appreciating almost constantly since the late 1990s, but recent reports suggest that price growth is slowing.
Toronto has more high-rises under construction than any city in North America, and most of them hold condos to house a growing population. The area surrounding the Gehry development, a mix of warehouse and loft buildings, will see 15,000 new units completed over the next few years. That has raised concerns from some at city hall that the local infrastructure—including transit and water service—cannot support the additional strain posed by Mirvish’s development, which would require substantial zoning changes in order to be approved. (The process is likely to take two years.)
That is one reason that, locally, the project has so far provoked a mixture of excitement and consternation. Another subject of controversy is the site itself. The complex would replace four sizeable century-old loft buildings, each of them designated historic by the city. In its second phase, the development would also take down a 2,000-seat theater, The Princess of Wales, which Mirvish built in the early 1990s to house major musicals. Mirvish expressed regret at demolishing the theater, but said he didn't want to give Gehry "anything less than a full canvas."
Indeed, if completed, this project would be one of the largest projects in a city being transformed by high-density development—and also Gehry's largest built work. If not, it could follow Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards as another unfinished magnum opus. Mirvish said that he is prepared for the project to unfold over the long term, and has acknowledged that the market conditions may not be ideal at this moment. For him, it is clearly a legacy project.
Gehry, however, claims he's not worried about such things. "I don't think about my legacy," he said in an interview. "I don't look back that much. I don't hire public relations to talk about my past work." And if it doesn't get built? "That's not my problem," he said with a smile. For an architect looking at his hometown, and looking at the last act of his career, that seems glib. But his design may have the last word.