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How vacant Toronto buildings destined for condos are being transformed into unique, temporary spaces

How vacant Toronto buildings destined for condos are being transformed into unique, temporary spaces
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Andrew Williamson likes to call them “interstitial spaces” — buildings slated to be torn down that, until the red tape clears, are caught between their future and past.

“Where something has kind of reached the end of its life of its original design purpose but it’s not yet gone to be redeveloped into something new,” he says.

The term is adapted from an architectural phrase used to describe intermediate space between floors to allow room for mechanical systems. But it also captures the essence of buildings destined for redevelopment.

“There’s often a lapse of time in that period of, sometimes years,” as developers wade through permits and community consultations.

In a city that feels like it’s rapidly running out space, these otherwise vacant buildings offer a unique, if temporary, opportunity for everything from pop-up offices, to stores, to art galleries.

Williamson is leasing an old GM Chevrolet Oldsmobile dealership near St. Clair Ave. W. and Osler St. that is on its way to being redeveloped for condos. He’s turned it into an arts and event space called the Black Cat Showroom that most recently featured an exhibit displaying art from Ryerson students and will host a featured show as part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in May.

When he moved into the neighbourhood about a year and a half ago, he kept seeing vacant spaces where he saw “the opportunity for making things happen,” he says.

“I kept coming back to this one building that basically just looked completely empty.”

Ryerson Students fine tune their projects in Black Cat Showroom showroom. After taking over the space, Andrew Williamson says he "completely gutted it and transformed it."  (Steve Russell)

Through a contact he eventually approached a representative of the developer, and “the idea brewed from there.”

“It was kind of just a very not too exciting building made to be an auto dealership that had sat empty for several years,” says the 31-year-old photographer, who also operates original Black Cat Artspace gallery on Dundas St. W.

“I completely gutted it and transformed it,” he says of the space.

Linda Farha, founder of popupgo.com , a Toronto-based company that connects landlords with businesses seeking pop-up space across North America, says these kinds of spaces are very common in Toronto given the condo boom.

“This mid period where you’ve got vacancy known and (it) is going to be redeveloped for a condo, we’re seeing that a lot,” she says, adding these spaces have been used for temporary store fronts or spots for brands to connect with potential customers.

There are plenty of recent examples, she says, including the building where her own office is, at King and Duncan Sts., which is eventually going to become condos, and has a couple of vacated spots listed on her site for potential pop-ups.

The space has two different areas, the old parts and service reception area, which contains a gallery space as well as a studio, the and the showroom.  (Steve Russell)

Pop-up office space, starting at $600 a month, is also being advertised on Kijiji in Toronto’s Palace Arms at King St. and Strachan Ave., which was once a rooming house.

Though there are deals to be had, Farha says these spaces can sometimes charge a premium because of the shorter lease.

The St. Clair W. Ave. property is owned by Graywood Developments and will eventually be coming down for the Scout Condos, which are currently on sale, says Heather Lloyd, vice-president of the company’s sales and marketing.

But in the meantime, after being approached by Williamson, “we thought, you know, this space is just sitting there and why not use it for something like art,” said Lloyd.

She said they signed the lease at no cost, a partnership Williamson said allowed him to put his resources and time into extensive renovations and create a vibrant space for artists. He doesn’t charge for use of the space, only for services offered during a show.

The property is owned by Graywood Developments and will eventually be coming down for the Scout Condos, which are currently on sale, says Heather Lloyd, vice-president of the company s sales and marketing.  (Steve Russell)

Williamson estimates his gallery has a lifespan of a couple of years. But for him it’s worth it to reactivate the space, even if it’s only temporarily.

“There’s a lot of value in there,” he says. “In the fact that you bring people together, connect community, all those things.”

Graywood did something similar last spring when it opened the doors of the old former Weston Bread Factory in Leslieville for an exhibition as part of the Contact Photography Festival.

The bakery is the site of the new Wonder Condos, which will incorporate a portion of the original factory facade.

“We love the idea of activating, or animating or providing access to spaces that are underutilized,” Lloyd says.
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