Is The Shops at Aura Toronto’s worst mall?
blogTO
Posted by Derek Flack
07 November 2015

Located just steps beneath one of Toronto's primary commercial corridors, The Shops at Aura is a strange beast of a mall that offers a warning against the way that retail is incorporated into condo developments. Despite its location, this shopping centre completely fails to thrive.

Almost half the allotted retail spaces are vacant, there are only a handful of vendors in the abandoned-looking food court, and the whole place feels like an anxiety-inducing maze in which the more turns you take, the further you get from an exit.

The main problem is the design. Each unit is very small, and thus not remotely attractive to big name retailers. Sold as "retail condos," each space has an individual owner, which also complicates the process of securing tenants down here. For a particularly depressing tour, check out this video.

There's a Marshall's and a Bed Bath and Beyond in the podium of the tower, but that feels like a different world from the underground retail. Having a mom and pop-type market would actually be great if it was at all viable, but since opening in 2012, the mall has never gotten its legs.

Of the 130 retail spaces available, it seems like only slightly more than half are occupied. There's a lesson in here given the radical amount of development taking place along Yonge St. "If you build it, they will come" does not hold true for shopping malls that look like afterthoughts. One has to take care when fostering retail communities, especially underneath Yonge St.

Galleria Mall at Dupont and Dufferin takes its fair share of knocks, but it's so much better than the Shops at Aura (for as long as it lasts). The Galleria is anchored by a major grocery store, large-scale gym, and an LCBO. This ensures constant activity for the mom and pop shops. At Aura, the little vendors have to fend for themselves.

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Businesses in ‘ghost town’ condo mall suing developer Canderel Residential
Toronto Star
Geoffrey Vendeville
07 January 2016

Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star

With more than half of its 122 retail units unoccupied, three restaurants in the food court built for 12, and little foot traffic, the mall is said to look like a ghost town.

Optician Alfred Wong says he was misled into thinking he was making a smart investment when he bought a retail condo unit in the underground mall of the 80-storey Aura building, just north of Yonge and Gerrard.

A brochure for buyers boasted future access to the PATH, which links 1,200 stores, 50 buildings and Union Station. But there is still no PATH connection, and Wong says his business is suffering.

“I keep losing money every day, actually,” said Wong, who paid about $356,000 for his condo in 2013. “There is no traffic at all going through our floor. It makes business very difficult for all the owners. Most of us have been suffering since day one.”

In a $31.6-million lawsuit, the condo corporation claims the developer, Canderel Residential, and College Park Residences IV misrepresented the mall as “a first class retail shopping centre” with “a future connection to the PATH.”

The condo corporation is suing Canderel and The Residences of College Park IV for negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract and construction deficiencies, among other allegations, none of which has been proven in court.
In an email, Danny Roth, a spokesman for The Residences of College Park IV, said, “It would not be appropriate for us to respond to these allegations — no matter how baseless they may be — through the media, as this matter is now before the courts.”

In the brochure, pictures show shoppers strolling the mall’s corridors with shopping bags in hand. In reality, For Sale and For Lease signs abound in the windows of empty storefronts. There are only three restaurants in a food court built for 12, according to the mall’s floor plan. More than half of the 122 retail units are unoccupied.

“Is the Shops at Aura Toronto’s worst mall?” ran a BlogTO headline in November.

“With the majority of the retail units unoccupied, it looks like a ghost town,” said lawyer Denise Lash in an interview. Her firm, Lash Condo Law, is representing the condo corporation in the lawsuit.

Like many others in the Aura mall, Jonathan Tolentino, 26, co-owner of the custom T-shirt and apparel company Improshare, says he was banking on the link to the PATH. He and his family bought their retail condo unit for $435,000 in 2013 intending to rentit, but opened their own store after months of looking for a tenant without success.
“There hasn’t been any significant foot traffic down here. Ever,” he said.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the Aura mall, says she feels for the owners. Canderel has installed “knock-out panels” on the south side of the building to connect to the PATH in the event of nearby development, she told the Star.

“But right now, there is no potential to connect anything because there’s no development,” she said.

A proposed redevelopment of the Chelsea Hotel is an opportunity to tunnel from Aura south toward the closest point on the PATH, the Atrium on Bay on Edward St., said Al Rezoski, a manager at the city of Toronto who was the planner and manager assigned to the Aura tower. But any connection is “10 years off, and that’s optimistic,” he said. It would also require the permission of a number of businesses between Elm and Edward Sts.

Without being on the PATH, there isn’t any reason to think business will improve at the Shops at Aura any time soon, said Jim Danahy, CEO of the retail advisory firm CustomerLAB in Toronto. One problem is that the mall lies off most people’s commute, despite a link to the College subway station, he said.

“I’m going to bet there are people within a stone’s throw of the mall that don’t even know it exists.”

Another is that the only big-name retailers that draw customers to College Park are above-ground — Marshalls and Bed Bath & Beyond. There are no major traffic draws in the basement, Danahy said.

For lawyer Ted Charney , who is not involved in the lawsuit against Aura but has represented condo owners in other disputes with developers, the Shops at Aura appear to be yet another example of when a project’s description falls short of reality.

He said developers are “notorious for including a standard clause in the purchase agreement that says unless they make the promise in the agreement, you can’t rely on it.

“They can promise you the moon in marketing materials and the presentation centre, but when you sign the agreement all of those promises that occurred before you signed, it’s as if they never existed,” he said.


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