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West Queen West: In 2001, The Drake Hotel Sold for $860,000

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Since 2001, the Drake Hotel has led the transformation of the West Queen West neighbourhood from a former industrial manufacturing hub and low-income neighbourhood into a world-class strip of undeniable coolness (and property values to match). Stretching from Bathurst Street westward to Gladstone Avenue, this strip of Queen Street was voted 2nd coolest neighbourhood in the world by Vogue magazine in 2014. What a difference a decade makes!

But how did it happen?

Initially a 19th-century Pacific Railway Hub, West Queen West housed industrial manufacturing operations in the mid-20th century, but these businesses slowly moved out, vacating loft-style factory buildings. As is often the case in large urban centres, artists and arts organizations began to move to the area in the 1980s and 1990s in search of cheaper rents. One of the first such organizations to make an official home in West Queen West was Artscape, who opened Canada’s first legally-zoned artist live/work space in 1995 in a former warehouse and used car lot west of Trinity Bellwoods Park. Gallerists like Katherine Mulherin and Jamie Angell also stepped in to set up shop, setting off a chain reaction of budding cafes and specialty shops in the area.

At the same time, real estate maverick Harry Stinson was converting the Candy Factory building, a massive block-long structure built in 1907, into one of Toronto’s first loft-style residential buildings. In the following two decades, resale values of individual Candy Factory units climbed as high as 430%, with a penthouse loft purchased in 1998 for $349,000 eventually selling for $1,505,000.

The West Queen West buzz was gaining momentum as the millennium came to a close, but the neighbourhood was still priced reasonably for those with the insight and risk tolerance to enter into this up-and-coming market. Enter Jeff Stober, widely known as an intensely-focused, creative, and ambitious visionary. Yes, it’s true that Stober bought the Drake Hotel for $860,000 in 2001, but he also proceeded to sink $6 million in renovations over the next three years into this “derelict dive in a hostile neighbourhood.” When the rejuvenated Drake opened in 2004, the time was ripe for the neighbourhood to come into its own.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LAST DECADE ON WEST QUEEN WEST:

  • The City re-designates the area as a“regeneration area” in 2004 (the same year the post-renovation Drake opened) in order to attract investment, facilitate new construction, and find innovative uses for existing spaces as part of a population and employment growth strategy.
  • Developers rush in to buy up land in the area and begin the process of rezoning it to facilitate increased density and building heights.
  • In 2005 the West Queen West Business Improvement Area (BIA) forms to secure the designation of the strip as the“Art and Design District”.
  • 2008 research study finds that business owners in the area report the arrival of “new higher-end consumers” in recent years, alongside “increased demand for housing by young affluent professionals”.
  • In 2008, the Drake General Store opens next door to the hotel. It’s an instant hit; within three years, the store expands to Rosedale, Yonge and Eglinton, Ottawa, and even Vancouver.
  • Average home price in the Beaconsfield area (from Shaw to Dufferin Streets) rises from $391,620 in the spring of 2008 to $531,642 in the spring of 2015. (Source: The Globe and Mail)
  • To the east, in the Trinity Bellwoods area (from Bathurst to Shaw Streets), average home price rises from $616,377 in the spring of 2008 to $859,056 in the fall of 2015.
  • For a more in-depth look at the history of Queen West, check out the ‘Then & Now’ blog post discussing the neighbourhood through the decades.

What emerges from these facts and figures is a portrait of a neighbourhood whose profile and value changed drastically in a short amount of time. In the early 2000s, observers balked at the audacity of developers and visionaries like Jeff Stober and Harry Stinson, but now West Queen West is touted as “one of the most dynamic contemporary art, design and nightlife scenes in the world,” and it’s due in no small part to the Drake Hotel, a century-old stalwart with an imaginative facelift and an infectiously charming spirit. If it can happen on West Queen West, it can happen anywhere.