The Festival towers at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, by Menkes Development and QuadReal Property Group. (Courtesy Menkes Developments Ltd.)

Menkes Developments Ltd. was the top builder of pre-construction high-rise sales condominiums across the country, while its Festival joint venture with QuadReal Property Group was the best-selling new condo project in Canada in 2020, according to data released by Altus Group.

Sales launched in September for Festival and all 1,325 units in its first two towers in the 5.15-acre mixed-use development at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) north of Toronto at Highway 7 and Highway 400 sold out in less than four months. Construction is expected to start later in the first half of 2021 and should take about four years to complete.

“It was the right timing in the market and the right brand,” Menkes executive vice-president of high-rise residential Jared Menkes said of Festival’s sales success.

“We’ve always focused on ‘A’ locations close to transit and amenities. VMC was a natural location to take our expertise, with the new subway and master-planned approach in designing over 75 acres of new development with our partner QuadReal. It’s a project we really believed in and (is) true community-building.”

Marketing and sales methods

Menkes operates programs from three Greater Toronto Area (GTA) sales centres: on the downtown waterfront; in North York; and in Vaughan.

The 12,000-square-foot Vaughan sales centre on Highway 7 was planned before the pandemic took hold, but worked well because it allowed for ample physical distancing for people and parking for vehicles.

Digital marketing and sales played a larger role due to physical restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, and customers have become more familiar and comfortable with doing more virtually in recent years.

Menkes said buyers have seen other mixed-use communities the company has delivered at Empress Walk in North York and Harbour Plaza Residences and Sugar Wharf on Toronto’s waterfront, which gives them more to base their decisions on than just looking at renderings of a proposed project.

Menkes’ overall condo sales

Menkes sold 1,679 new condo units in 2020, capturing eight per cent of the GTA market. That earned it the top spot both among the region’s 188 high-rise builders and among all developers nationwide.

The Toronto-headquartered company sold about 200 units at its Lake & Town townhome community just north of Lake Shore Boulevard near Kipling Avenue in Etobicoke.

Smaller numbers of Toronto sales occurred at Fleur near Church and Shuter Streets, in.DE near Dundas and Jarvis Streets, and Sugar Wharf on the eastern waterfront to make up the balance.

Harbour Plaza Residences was the GTA’s top-selling condo in 2013. Sugar Wharf, the largest mixed-use community on Toronto’s waterfront, was Canada’s best-selling high-rise condo in 2018.

Menkes said 2013, 2018 and 2020 were all considered down years for the housing market, but his firm flourished during all three.

“During periods of uncertainty, we’ve seen a flight to quality. Buyers look to the resilience of a few long-standing market leaders in the development industry. It’s like buying a blue-chip stock.

“When times are uncertain, people go with brands they trust and know can deliver.”

Menkes was founded in 1954 and is a fully integrated real estate company involved in the construction, ownership and management of office, industrial, retail and residential properties. It’s one of the largest private developers in Canada, with a primary focus in the GTA.

Overall GTA condo sales fell in 2020

New condo sales in the GTA fell 22 per cent year-over-year in 2020, according to Altus Group. That’s not a surprise considering the market was largely shut down from mid-March to the summer due to COVID-19.

The decline was particularly sharp in the City of Toronto, which saw a 31 per cent decrease as sales shifted to suburban municipalities due to buyers seeking affordability and more space.

“We’re seeing a demand for larger units, which was a natural in Vaughan because people tend to buy bigger units in the suburbs,” said Menkes.

The developer is now adding dens to many of its new units so people have additional space that can be used to work from home or for other purposes.

Upcoming Menkes developments

Menkes has more than 3,300 units under construction across the GTA and another 15,000 units under development. It will launch three new condo projects this year.

Sales for Festival’s third and fourth towers in the VMC, comprising 1,145 units, will begin this spring.

Festival will eventually feature four condo towers varying in height from 40 to 59 storeys, one of which will be the tallest in the VMC.

They’ll be anchored by 85,000 square feet of retail space and the focal point of the development will be a retail-lined pedestrian mews opening on to a public courtyard.

Sales for a 38-storey condo with approximately 400 units will launch in the second half of this year near Front and Sherbourne Streets.

The downtown east location is within walking distance of offices in the core in addition to The Distillery Historic District, George Brown College and the waterfront.

A 25-storey condo with approximately 200 units will launch in the second half of the year on Yonge Street just north of Bloor Street, across from the Toronto Reference Library and very close to two subway lines and a number of amenities.

GTA condo forecast for 2021

Menkes thinks developers may exercise increased patience before launching new condo projects this year, as steel, concrete and labour costs have risen along with municipal levies and the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“I think buyers will continue to look for value, but I don’t think they’re going to take risks on inexperienced developers in this environment,” said Menkes. “People have seen the down side of buying from inexperienced builders and will continue to look at brands.”

Menkes believes downtown Toronto high-rise condo sales will be relatively slow through the first half of this year but will pick up steam in the fall.

It’s hoped life will largely return to normal as COVID-19 vaccines become more widespread, immigration resumes and university and college students return to physically attending classes.

Menkes expects the momentum seen last year in the low-rise and townhome housing markets to also continue in 2021.

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