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Vaughan Rising Podcast – Emerging Downtown Part 1: The Expo City Story with Cortel Group

This blog is a summary of the Vaughan Rising Podcast Season 1 Episode 7 by the host, Michelle Samson. For more detail, listen to the full episode (links below).

About the episode

Cortel Group was an early believer in the potential of Vaughan’s new downtown and got development in the area moving with two 37-storey residential towers. Cortel Group President and CEO Mario Cortellucci and Head of Design and Sales Romina Cortellucci share the backstory of how Expo City seemed like a sure bet when the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre was barely off the ground.

Thoughts from the host

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is a high-density, transit-oriented, walkable downtown that Vaughan is building from scratch at Highways 400 and 407.

It’s an ambitious city-building project that has really come to fruition in the last few years after multiple stages of planning. The first three office and residential towers are open with seven more under construction, and plenty more high-, mid- and low-rise projects are on the way. New streets, spacious parks and a mobility hub are in development as well, including the open-and-operational VMC subway station with more than 14,000 daily commuters.

We’ve touched on the VMC earlier in this podcast series, but now we’re going more in-depth for not just one, but several upcoming episodes.

We begin with a short history of the VMC, and the story behind its first development project: a pair of 37-storey towers known as Expo City. They were far taller than any other building in Vaughan, but Cortel Group – the developer behind Expo City – had a vision.

How did they know it would be a success? What’s next? To find out, I invited Cortel Group’s President, Mario Cortellucci, and Head of Design and Sales, Romina Cortellucci, to the podcast.

The VMC is booming now, but 10 years ago it was still in the beginning phases of becoming a reality. The project was an ambitious vision to transform the low-rise industrial and retail properties around Highway 7 and Jane Street into a commercial core for Vaughan.

Cortel Group was established in Vaughan 50 years ago as a small-scale construction operation. Since then, they’ve grown and diversified their portfolio to include high-rise, low-rise, industrial and commercial developments.

Meanwhile, Vaughan was also growing. It developed from a town to a city and remained a collection of five communities: Concord, Kleinburg, Maple, Thornhill and Woodbridge.

Mario, an Italian immigrant, saw that Vaughan was missing the kind of central piazza closely associated with Italian life. He bought land at Highway 7 and Jane Street knowing it had great potential. Richmond Hill, Markham and Brampton all had cores along Highway 7. With the north-south artery of Highway 400 nearby, this intersection made the most sense for Vaughan.

Fast forward a few years to the 1990s, the City of Vaughan commissioned a study to create a new downtown and created a Secondary Plan. In the 2000s, the Province of Ontario announced that the Spadina subway line would be extended to Vaughan, and it designated the VMC as an Urban Growth Centre. The City updated its Secondary Plan in 2010 to reflect the new density target of 200 people and jobs per hectare by 2031.

A year after that Secondary Plan was approved, Cortel Group announced plans to build Expo City, starting with those two 37-storey towers. Why so tall? Romina says they went straight for high-rise because the area allowed it. The vision for the area was high-density, and there were no low-rise residential neighbourhoods in the vicinity to disrupt. It was also an opportunity to bring condominiums to the Vaughan housing market, previously dominated by detached and semi-detached homes.

Mario was convinced the project would be viable, but his partners and peers were skeptical. Romina says many people didn’t believe the subway or the VMC would come, but Mario was able to convince them and Expo City’s first homeowners that something beautiful was on the way. Romina says both Cortel Group and those homeowners are winners now, “When you’re the first person there, it is lonely, but the few people who come along for the ride really do get the rewards.”

Cortel Group went on to build two more Expo City towers: the 39-storey Nord Condos and Townhomes. They’re scheduled to open soon.

For an upcoming project, Cortel Group decided to go big. Really big. CG Tower was recently approved at 60 storeys. CG Tower will definitely be noticed for its size, but Cortel Group also decided to make an architectural statement. It’s a brick exterior, taking a cue from Vaughan’s many low-rise brick homes, while standing apart from the usual choice of glass for towers. With direct access to the forthcoming 0.17-hectare (17-acre) Edgeley Pond and Park, CG Tower will be like a home with a backyard on a massive scale.

Even with a development of this magnitude coming, Cortel Group isn’t done in the VMC. There’s some commercial space available in the first four tower podiums that they hope to fill with services complementary to their largest tenant: Niagara University. Plus, Cortel Group’s parcel of land still has enough space for several more developments. They’re considering three to four residential developments, a hotel and a modern medical building.

Cortel Group had a clear vision of the area’s potential very early on. In the years ahead, Mario and Romina think the VMC’s smart planning and collaborative mindset will keep the project on track and make it a good case study for other cities.

Per the Vaughan Rising Podcast tradition, I asked these deeply Vaughan-based developers for their local restaurant picks. Mario was diplomatic, saying, “They’re all great, and they’re all beautiful,” while Romina stated she enjoys the pizza at Ciao Roma located at 28 Roytec Rd.

This episode was recorded in the green-screen room at the Civic Centre Resource Library. For more information on Vaughan Public Libraries’ creation spaces, visit vaughanpl.info/shareit.