Crack Dealers And Prostitutes Lived In Houses That Once Stood Where High-End Condos Will Be Built

  • 06/24/19
  • |          Kitchener

Boutique condominiums at 51 David St. in Kitchener named after the male swan that lives on the pond in Victoria Park

From crack houses to $1.7 million condos.

The most expensive condos in the region will be built in Victoria Park where a notorious drug house blighted a street bordering the city’s premier urban park.

For decades drug dealers, addicts and street-level sex-trade workers used two small houses at 51 and 53 David St., right across from Victoria Park. Once a month the landlord, who lived in Quebec, would drive to Kitchener to collect the welfare cheques from the people using the buildings.

Police, fire, public health and city building inspectors never managed to shut the buildings down. But the neighbourhood slowly but steadily changed following huge investments by the City of Kitchener and the expansion of the tech sector into the downtown.

The demand for new housing followed.

Now, a condominium called OTIS with six floors, 30 units, large terraces overlooking the park and high-end finishes will be built on the property by Kitchener-based Vive Development Development Corporation.

Within days of launching the website 10 condos sold. The price: $625 per square-foot. So the units will range from a low of about $365,000 to a high of $1.7 million.

The buyers so far are downsizing Westmounters and tech workers who will live in the units, said Heather Campbell of Vive Development.

Branded as a boutique development, the condos are finished with floors, countertops and bathrooms that would be high-end upgrades in other condos, said Campbell.

It will be a highly-visible, street-level reminder of downtown Kitchener’s revival, which started about 2006 with the city’s $110 million economic development investment fund.

When Communitech moved into the Tannery in 2010 the pace of the revival picked up speed. Communitech was followed by Google and scores of startups.

A couple from California who are relocating to Kitchener are among the potential buyers of the remaining units at OTIS.

“Quite something to see what’s becoming of the site,” said Laird Robertson, the principal at NEO Architecture Ltd., who designed OTIS. “This was a blight, this was wound, and it was healed with this.”

Laird wanted the new building to be an elegant, simple and modern expression of downtown’s revival, while acknowledging the history of the city’s first heritage conservation district around the park.

Corrugated metal siding turned horizontal with a metallic monochromatic finish references the brick homes and buildings in the neighbourhood without using bricks, said Robertson.

“Probably the biggest issue we dealt with on that project was the materials,” said Robertson of the planning approvals.

OTIS will be the first development in Kitchener to use stacked parking in the ground-level garage.

Vehicles will be stacked on three levels of an automated-storage rack manufactured by the German firm Klaus. Two levels can be viewed from the floor of the garage. The third is below, out of sight.

The are 20 movable platforms that each hold a single car. The platforms are moved to make room when a car is being parked. The platforms move again when drivers want to leave and summon their vehicle with the push of a button.

“The use of it is widespread in Europe and somewhat in the States in very dense areas,” said Robertson. “It is really about the effective use of space.”

Parking spaces have bedevilled urban planners, developers and residents. The city must intensify land use with more multi-residential, mixed-use developments to reduce urban sprawl. Provincial laws demand it. Surface parking lots take up land that is better used for housing, and stacked parking is a way to accommodate both, said Robertson.

OTIS the condo is named after Otis the male swan that lives on the pond in Victoria Park.

For years, Stephen Litt, of Vive Development, lived on Roland Street and watched Otis make his daily rounds. He also drove and walked past the boarded-up crack house at 51 David St. every day.

For more than 10 years, Litt wanted to redevelop it. Up to now, he focused on renovating and upgrading older buildings with rental units. Designs and plans changed for this site during the approval process. At one point, Vive proposed a 12-floor apartment building. It eventually evolved into a six-floor boutique condominium.

“It is our magnum opus, it is what we have been working toward for a very long time,” said Litt.

After the property was bought, the former crack house was turned into an art installation in 2014 during the CAFKA —Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area. The building was painted black and a giant arrow was inserted into a front window just below the peak of the roof at 51 David St.

“I remember being up on the lift, putting the arrow through the window,” said Litt.

In the basement is a 2,000-square-foot space that Litt is not sure what to do with. The entrance is through the front of the building off David Street. He likes the idea of a live music venue or a wine bar.

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