Like many others in the construction sector, it has been an extremely trying six months for Toronto’s MOD Developments since COVID-19 hit.
As MOD president Noorez Lalani tells it, the firm had three major residential projects on the go, all at different stages, and so the disruptions required distinctive approaches and solutions for each.
The 60-storey, 679-unit Massey Tower was 95 per cent complete at 197 Yonge St. with condo owners all moved in and minor work on amenities to wrap up when COVID-19 hit; Waterworks on Richmond Street West, with 290 condos in 13 storeys alongside a new food hall and YMCA, was 60 to 70 per cent done; and the 55C Bloor Yorkville Residences, a 48-storey, 541-unit project designed by architectsAlliance for 55 Charles St., was nearing the start of construction with lenders in the midst of poring over loan documents.
It was tense times, Lalani said, but collaborative action and ingenuity kept work on 55C at least on track. Investors hesitated, building permits were stalled and marketing plans were redrawn for the project but MOD actually made up ground once demolition started and on Aug. 19 the firm celebrated groundbreaking.
“It does require ingenuity but most important it’s teamwork,” said Lalani recently. “When everyone is driving in the same direction, you have no choice but to keep moving. I found that very invigorating.”
Sales were launched for 55C a year ago in a very strong Toronto market and Lalani said MOD just needed a little sales push to get over the line when most of construction shut down due to the pandemic. Lenders balked.
“I had signature pages in escrow, that’s how close we were,” Lalani recalled.
“We were proceeding with a lead bank, we had been negotiating for well over six months, and obviously the size of the loan required a syndication from a lead bank, and we were actually pretty much close to finalizing our agreements. Obviously there was heavy legal involvement with a loan of this size and a number of banks including the syndication, but it was tough, some of the syndication partners came back and were recrossing their Ts and dotting their Is and just making sure the assumptions that they had underwritten for a potential loan still held true.”
The strength of the project, the underlying fundamentals and the already crystallized sales provided the comfort that the lenders needed to get the loans put in place, Lalani said.
Meanwhile, MOD was also dealing with issues at Massey Tower, a project designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects that has preserved the 1905-era Bank of Commerce building onsite.
“You had a building that was fully occupied, 700 suites, and you can imagine all of a sudden the pandemic hits full force and you have residents saying, ‘wait a second, I don’t want trades coming into the building to finish this stuff up,’ ” said Lalani.
The brakes remain on, he said, with tasks such as streetscaping lagging.
“We did what we could, and we have been doing what we can. But we are still feeling the impacts of residents not wanting the human to human contact. That is understandable.”
Over on Richmond Street, Waterworks, a co-development with Woodcliffe Landmark Properties designed by Diamond Schmitt, had been topped off and it was time for drywallers, electricians and millwrights to work on interiors.
“COVID had a significant impact. It is very hard to maintain social distancing,” said Lalani. “The trades are all in the same suite together all getting work done as fast as possible in a sequence that is tried and tested over time. With COVID, I’ve got to have the drywall trade finish off one suite and leave and then the electrical guys coming in. They don’t want to have the trades comingling, they want to have proper contact tracing, and you can image how it delays the project.”
But the construction managers and the trades are all keen to work as efficiently as possible — no-one enjoyed the shutdown in the spring, Lalani said, and they are all saying, “We can’t not go to work” — so they are working hard to respect processes and accept their civic responsibility to help keep numbers low, he explained.
This summer at 55C, there was positive news during demolition of two buildings and excavation. Most demolition workers already wear hazmat suits and the crews took advantage of longer hours permitted by the province.
“We have been able to pick up a little speed and the fact that demolition work is almost COVID-proof, that is an example of something that wasn’t planned,” said Lalani.
The project is due for completion in 2023.
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