Builder Spot Light: Menkes

Twenty-five years ago, it took a leap of faith to believe that the sleepy bedroom community north of Highway 401 would become a major urban centre.

But Alan Menkes and his associates at Menkes Development Ltd. were willing to take a chance on North York, based on its 1980′s designation as a “growth node” as Metropolitan Toronto expanded, coupled with the big plans and boundless enthusiasm of its then-mayor, Mel Lastman.

“Mel was the ultimate promoter; he put North York on the map,” notes Menkes, president of the highrise residential division of Menkes Developments Ltd., which has been in business for 50 years.

Today, looking west from Menkes’ boardroom on Yonge St., just south of Sheppard, the vestiges of the original quiet suburb remain in the blocks of older single-family homes and tree-lined streets. But the view north up Yonge St. is of a modern, thriving metropolis of office towers, retail shops, institutional buildings and highrise condominiums.

Menkes has been a key player in the evolution of North York, contributing 1.5 million square feet of commercial and retail space and 7,000 condo units in 20 buildings. Now the company has just launched what Menkes describes as its “crowning achievement” – Gibson Square, which will include two 42-storey residential towers in the heart of the city centre, directly connected to the North York City Centre subway and Empress Walk shopping centre. Menkes’ first project in North York was the Canadian headquarters for Proctor and Gamble, which moved to 4711 Yonge St. from Yonge and St. Clair.

“They did a study and found that the epicentre of all population in the GTA is here. Geographically, if you draw a circle, put a dot in the middle, that’s Yonge and Sheppard,” Menkes says. “That was our basic premise – it was already on the Yonge St. subway, infrastructure was being added and it was the centre. It was going to a real alternative to downtown.”

Lastman was determined that his community would become a major urban centre and was a tireless champion of redevelopment, notably along the strip of Yonge St. running north of Sheppard Ave.

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