Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Toronto’s iconic Flatiron is up for for sale
The triangular five-storey red-brick building, with a trompe l’oeil mural on the side, went on the market Tuesday, with formal bids due on Oct. 27 to Brookfield Financial Real Estate Group, which is overseeing the sale.
“It’s the ideal time,” said Eve Lewis, president and CEO of Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, noting that for the first time in almost a century, no ongoing leases mean a single owner or tenant could occupy the entire office space, close to 20,000 square feet.
Only the bar Flatiron & Firkin remains with a lease until the end of 2015.
Sitting at an unusual corner where Front, Wellington and Church Sts. meet, the building has often been photographed with Toronto’s bank towers in the background.
Lewis recently took over the helm of Woodcliffe after her husband Paul Oberman, a heritage developer, died in a small plane crash in March in Maine. He was flying with another man in a four-seater plane when they ran into an ice storm.
Lewis is also president of MarketVision, a condo marketing firm.
Oberman specialized in developing heritage properties including renovating the old North Toronto train station, which now houses the Summerhill LCBO. He painstakingly worked on the Flatiron building, also known as the Gooderham building, which dates back to 1892.
“I think it has always had an incredible appeal because of its iconic nature, because of the history of the building, because of the uniqueness of it,” Lewis said. “The market is very good for real estate in Toronto, period. But for commercial, it’s really exceptional.”
But Lewis isn’t saying what the property is worth, arguing that traditional formulas calculating square footage don’t necessarily apply, given the uniqueness of the building, especially now that it’s been renovated.
“To tell you the truth, I guess we’ll find out on the 27th what its value is,” she said, adding it’s always gone for a premium. She said commercial lease rates are comparable to the “triple A” rates of the bank towers.
“I think it’s because people can create an identity in that building that you can’t if you’re just on one of the floors of one of the bank towers,” she said, adding companies want something that’s different.
According to property records, the building sold in 1999 for $2.2 million and again in 2005, when Woodcliffe purchased it for $10.1 million.
Built for George Gooderham, then president of the Bank of Toronto and owner of Gooderham and Worts distillery, it even included an underground tunnel to the bank.
It also houses a manually operated Otis elevator that is still staffed to this day, to move passengers up and down the floors.
The original staircase wraps around the elevator, with large windows offering unique views. Many heritage buildings in Toronto were knocked down in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but though the Flatiron fell into disrepair over the years, it was also preserved and renovated, most recently by Oberman.
“Paul always wanted to preserve historic buildings. He found a way of making those buildings in itself profitable instead of ripping them down,” she said, citing an ongoing project on Market St., where four buildings are being saved, instead of a new condo building going up.
In August, architect Michael Taylor argued for Market St., on the west side of the St. Lawrence Market, to be renamed Oberman Way. An online petition was set up.
Lewis has taken the Woodcliffe job in part to continue Oberman’s legacy with the help of their six children, who range in age from 20 to 26. They are committed to finding beautiful buildings to restore.
“Life is busy. It’s challenging, but it’s also distracting, and that’s probably good,” she said. “Life is different, very different without Paul.”
Putting the Flatiron up for sale was a tough.
“Of course, it’s a difficult decision to make,” she said. “But I think it’s the right one.”