In Toronto, an Industrial Stretch Has Its Breakout Moment


Dismissed for decades as a postindustrial wasteland, Sterling Road, a zigzagging half-mile strip of old factories and warehouses, is getting a second life. Last summer, the North American debut of a splashy Banksy exhibition in an empty warehouse there drew a global spotlight. With the arrival of Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) last fall, Sterling Road is newly hip, its appeal broadening beyond the small cadre of tuned-in artists and bohemian types who for years have had it to themselves. The street’s cavernous structures have also quickly become hot real estate.

While creative entrepreneurs with trendy food spots and boutiques are descending on the road on Toronto’s West Side, the area’s rapid gentrification is jolting locals and even some newcomers into action.

“Artists are the magic of Sterling Road, and their success is our success,” said Steve Himel, a craft brewer who joined with neighbors as well as museum leaders in a coalition called On Sterling to “empower people who were already here. We all have to put the neighborhood first.”

But for Jeff Stober, a former tech executive who has developed some of Toronto’s buzziest hotels, restaurants and retail spaces as part of his Drake brand, Sterling Road’s emergence couldn’t come fast enough.

“With Banksy, we saw people come from all over the world,” said Sarah MacLachlan, the president and publisher. “And MOCA shifted everything about how people think of this area.” Sales at the bookstore have grown 40 percent this year over the same period in 2018, she said.

Even bigger changes will come to Sterling Road over the next decade, with plans for a park, day care facilities and affordable housing, according to Lynda Macdonald, the City of Toronto’s director of community planning for the Toronto and East York District, which includes the area.

“Right now, people live in surrounding neighborhoods, but nobody lives on the street itself,” she said. “In the coming decade, we’ll have 540,000 square feet of new housing in about 900 housing units, along with 565,000 square feet of new office space.”

But in a cycle familiar to big urban areas, artists who had quietly colonized the area’s disused factories are feeling the squeeze. They say they are fighting for their future and the neighborhood’s creative atmosphere. Soon after the Museum of Contemporary Art announced its Sterling Road location in 2016, landlords were quick to start hiking rents, and many artisans fled. Some, though, are fighting back.



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