Established more than 45 years ago, Consulate Development Group are industry pioneers within the GTA. Based in Mississauga since 1978, the company has managed to have a hand in some of the Greater Toronto Area’s most recognized and established communities. Over the years, the company has also played a large part in the area’s evolving urban landscape, providing both long-time residents and newcomers with unique and sustainable places to live, work and play. Currently, the Consulate Development Group operates out of their head office in Central Parkway Mall, one mile east of the City Centre, with brothers John Sorokolit and William Sorokolit Jr. at the helm, carrying on the legacy their father started to build all those decades ago.
William Sorokolit Sr. settled his family in what is now the City of Mississauga in the early 60’s. Recognizing the growth potential for Toronto’s major suburb to the west, William Sr. began assembling parcels of land for residential and commercial development to accommodate the anticipated population influx that would soon occur. While Central Parkway Mall became the hub of the family’s development activities, its evolution wasn’t without its challenges. The Mall has changed over the past 40 years in its efforts to keep up with Square One Shopping Centre close by. In an effort to differentiate itself, the Mall has maintained its market position through a much more communal approach directed towards the local consumer. “We had to find our own identity,” says John. “So, we have very strong anchors with a high volume grocery store and a drug store. We have movie theatres and McDonalds. We have a Baskin Robbins that was their top performer in the country for many years, and then, eventually, a lot of doctors, dentists and lawyers rented space on the second floor. So, it became a hub for the community.”
Consulate Development Group’s success within the immediate community also managed to land them the Active Adult Centre that previously found its home in Square One. John believes that the gathering place for active seniors, which opens in October, will be a great companion to the Federal Passport Office in regards to connecting the community, both close and widespread. In addition to owning and managing the Central Parkway Mall, the company also lays claim to several master-planned communities in close proximity to the now-densely populated City Centre, including “Deer Run —a shopping centre surrounded by 500 homes, as well as schools and parks—which is adjacent to the Erindale GO Station. The concept of mixed-use community projects has been one that has resonated with the company since its origin, until a trip to the southern United States served as a bit of a game-changer for their development agenda.
During their time in Florida, the company not only built The Consulate – a 22-storey high-rise in West Palm Beach – but they were also introduced to a concept that seemed foreign on Canadian soil. “I started seeing all of these outlet malls and big box centres everywhere, but they weren’t in Canada,” said John. “So, we focused on the factory outlet malls in the very early ‘90s.” Around that time, Consulate Developments was involved in three projects: one on Highway 400 and Highway 89 in Cookstown, now owned by a large publicly-traded American outlet developer firm; one in Niagara Falls on McLeod Road at QEW, which later became a Wal-Mart anchored Smart Centre; and Windsor Crossing Premium Outlets, which is conveniently located near the U.S. border.
Despite the success of these retail projects, the Sorokolit family have decided to gravitate back toward their roots as the company advances; they currently have three residential projects in the works – comprising of nearly 3,000 homes – in Niagara, Collingwood and Mississauga. Originally intended to be a golf course, John says the Collingwood project known as Bridgewater on Georgian Bay is being built on the largest tract of underdeveloped land (312 acres) remaining in Collingwood. It will consist of 1,200 homes surrounded by a 250-acre nature preserve. This particular project served as a great compromise between Consulate Development Group and a local environmental group, which felt that the area’s precious waterfront landscape should be preserved as a sanctuary for current and future generations.
“We’re close to finalizing an exciting new master plan, and we already have approvals on half the site for 430 homes,” says John. “We’re going to be tripling the amount of development, because it’s going to be a more pedestrian-friendly village-style development. We’re going from mostly single-family and townhouses with some mid-rise condo buildings to all 3-4 storey condo product in themed neighbourhoods. The nature preserve is going to have trails, boardwalks, waterfront gazebos, fire pits and all this cool stuff where people can really enjoy the natural surroundings. We really wanted to build a golf-course community initially; but, while we were going through all the approvals, about five new golf courses opened up there, and we felt that the market was already saturated. So converting the golf course site to a Nature Preserve was the right thing to do.
The company’s upcoming housing project in Mississauga will include 149 urban townhomes with underground parking. It is expected to come to market in Spring 2018. The development will be situated on land on the QEW at Hurontario St. (Hwy 10) that the Sorokolit family has owned for 45 years. Building and strengthening relationships within the community is a mindset that John feels is crucial for the company’s reputation and success, and he and his organization help to ensure that they are continuously engaged with the City and its leaders.
“Most of our Mall traffic, with the exception of the Passport Office traffic, comes from within a two-mile radius,” he says. “We were the latest sponsors of the Mississauga Valley’s community barbecue. It had a huge turnout. It was promoted by our local councillor John Kovac, who is the new councillor for Ward 4. Frank Dale, the former Councillor for Mississauga City Centre, we’ve been friends and supporters of his for more than 30 years. Frank is now the chair of the Region of Peel. We developed a close relationship with the former MP, Albina Guarnieri, now retired. Bonnie Crombie has been a long-time friend and neighbour. It’s important to interact, be part of the community, get involved in community events and just keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the community, because we feel that we have to do a good job servicing the people who live and work in our local community.”
Currently, John believes that the main challenge confronting the GTA residential marketplace is the pressure coming from demographics and population growth through immigration and family-building. The majority of home-buyers are looking for housing which is “ground-related”, as opposed to the more frequently occurring high-rise options. However, he believes there is a way for the industry to adapt to these growing demands. “Most people, once they establish a family, where they have kids, they want to live in low-rise housing,” he says. “A lot of them are being forced into high-rise apartments and condos, which is not a bad form of housing, but it just brings a different dynamic to the family and leads to builders having to create more innovative and convenient recreational amenities.
As an example, if you live in a single, semi or townhouse, your kids can just run out in the yard and start throwing a ball around or kicking a soccer ball. But, when you live in a high-rise, it’s not always easy. We’re starting to see the emergence of a new form of more compact but lower-rise housing – and it’s reflected in our Mississauga project we’re launching early next year. The “urban townhouse” is now becoming the affordable product of choice for families looking for an alternative to hi-rise living. We’re developing one, two and three-storey “stacked” townhomes with below grade parking. You can still walk down your stairs and out your front door, and the kids can have a ball with them and kick it around the yard. We’re going to have these beautiful courtyards where you can sit, play catch, meet your neighbours having a BBQ on the front porch.” One more example of community building through creative design.
Looking forward, John and his family will continue unearthing the company’s roots with the pursuit of additional residential projects. They are currently working with an experienced and highly reputable construction management team to assist in the execution of their developments. Within the next five years, according to John, Consulate Development Group would also like to revisit the southern U.S. market, particularly Florida, as it is becoming more stabilized in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Ultimately, the hope is to establish a project to mirror, or even exceed, the success of “The Consulate”—its flagship high-rise condominium.
“It was a building that has had tremendous success through initial sales, plus re-sales, and we may start looking around again at opportunities in south Florida,” he says. “We certainly love it there, and the family’s been going down there for almost 50 years. We acquired our first place in 1972 and we all visit two or three times a year. So, getting back down to the Florida market and perhaps doing more projects down there once again, then building great communities; getting back to our roots where we did a lot of infill projects in through the ‘70s and the early ‘80s, and getting back to the five to 10-acre infill-type projects, where we can do more urban townhomes. That, in our opinion, is the affordable and preferred product-type of the future.”