Can Frank Gehry Interest You In A Condo?
Camera shutters click and electro music thumps as 93-year-old Frank Gehry arrives at the stage. It’s time to sell some condos. After a nearly six-decade career that’s brought Gehry recognition as the world’s greatest, or at least most famous, architect, this is something new. For the past 10 years he’s been trying to get permission in Toronto, the city of his birth, to erect a pair of skyline-defining towers on King Street at Duncan, in the heart of the theater district downtown. One of the towers, at 84 stories, would be the tallest he’s ever built.
Now, with the regulatory route clear, the biggest hurdle to realizing his dream is selling some units. Banks in Canada won’t finance condominium projects unless at least 70% of the units have been presold. No presales, no late-career masterpiece. So here’s Gehry, on a whirlwind two-day visit to his hometown, trying to drum up enthusiasm.
First up is this “rah-rah sales event,” in the words of one of Gehry’s local partners. Some 700 real estate agents are packed into a ballroom at the Art Gallery of Ontario, whose graceful convex glass facade Gehry himself designed, to ecstatic reviews, for a renovation completed in 2008. There are open bars on either side, waiters circulating with hors d’oeuvres, and a roving saxophonist doing solos. Opening acts have hyped up the crowd with predictions of ever-rising condo prices; Toronto’s real estate boom has been going on so long that they’re a better investment than the stock market, according to one builder. It’s an odd time for such confidence, given that average home prices in the city have fallen almost 12% since February, the worst downturn it has seen in years, and one most economists say is far from over. Royal Bank of Canada predicts the country’s housing market is in the midst of an “historic correction” greater than any in at least 40 years, raising the possibility that Gehry and his partners are trying to sell residential real estate at one of the worst times ever to do it in Toronto.
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