A view of the main Hines competition site in Toronto from the east. (Real Drone/ULI)

A graduate student team from Cornell University, two teams from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a team from the University of Maryland have been selected as the four finalists for the 16th annual ULI Hines Student Competition, an ideas competition that provides students the opportunity to devise a comprehensive design and development scheme for an actual, large-scale site in an urban area. The four teams are advancing to the final round of the competition in April, when they will compete for a $50,000 first-place prize.

The competition, which began in January, is designed to simulate an actual urban planning and development scenario, and reflects developments being considered as part of the city of Toronto’s vision for reviving the neighborhoods east of its historic downtown. Participants were tasked with creating a master development plan for the redevelopment of parcels of land adjacent to the river into a thriving mixed-use community that would catalyze other development, including additional commercial, retail, and residential space, and connect residential neighborhoods in the city’s northeast section to commercial neighborhoods in the southern section.

To be competitive, submissions must create a comprehensive environment that is programmed, designed, built, and operated with all the elements necessary to promote the site as an integrated part of the city with high appeal to workers, visitors, and residents. Playing the role of the potential master developer, student teams must evaluate the benefits and financial possibilities of buying at least two parcels along the Don River and possibly combining them with a third parcel to redevelop as one comprehensive development site.

The finalist development schemes and team descriptions are as follows:

  • “Montage” from Cornell University—“Montage” is a transformational mixed-use development at the junction of Toronto’s downtown and East End neighborhoods. The project is an environmentally sustainable cultural hub that integrates cinema, creative industries, and Toronto’s park system to provide a unique outlet for expression and lifestyle. Montage embraces the future of urban transportation by providing both public transit and a thoughtful street grid that accommodates private vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. It enhances the urban fabric with distinctive plazas, tree-lined streets, and industrial facades, reminiscent of the late 19th century. Akin to a montage clipping together scenes of a film, this development augments the surrounding communities and creative thinkers of Toronto.
  • “Absorption” from the Georgia Institute of Technology—Creating a space for regeneration, recreation, and reflection, “Absorption” is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development that seeks to transform east Toronto’s local ecology and local community into a smart, healthy, and equitable transit center. The development addresses four challenges that Toronto faces in its evolution to become one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities: a lack of ecological renewal, social equity, a vibrant economy, and authentic cultural identity.
  • “The EArL” from the Georgia Institute of Technology—“The EArL,” or Eastern Arts Link, is a neighborhood that is fueled by Toronto’s economic engine and inspired by the independent spirit of its rich tapestry of local communities. It is a vibrant cultural center where neighbors and visitors discover local art and international flavors together. The EArL unlocks opportunities for coming together. It repositions the SmartTrack/GO station, connecting it to a bold new transit hub for subway, rail, and light-rail transit. The development also links internal streets to the local grid, and forges new connections across the Don River using the historic bridge infrastructure.
  • “Point Passage” from the University of Maryland—“Point Passage” is a dynamic mixed-use community at the doorstep of the largest planned real estate development in Canada. Situated on the eastern bank of the Don River, it links Toronto’s traditional downtown to a powerful new economic, cultural, and transportation hub. Thoughtful planning that unlocks the site’s natural beauty and harnesses its strategic location will help create Toronto’s next great neighborhood. Just steps from the next major North American commercial corridor in one of the world’s great financial cities, Point Passage will be a place to call home.

This year, applications were submitted by 130 teams representing nearly 60 universities in the United States and Canada. Hines jury chairman and longtime ULI leader Carl Weisbrod cited two factors that made the finalists’ entries stand out. “Each entry was able to tell a story and provide a value proposition that would make these approaches attractive to the public, property owners, and developers,” says Weisbrod, senior advisor at HR&A Advisors in New York City and former chairman of the New York City Planning Commission. “And, each of them demonstrated coherence in the various components, including the financials, design, and programs. These two elements are what brought these four entries to the forefront.”

While there is no guarantee that any of the finalists’ entries would be considered for the redevelopment of the Toronto site, Weisbrod notes that the Hines competition has helped highlight the site’s significance in Toronto’s evolution.

The following seven entries received honorable-mention recognition:

  • “Front Porch/Backstage” from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
  • “Don Ramble” from the University of Pennsylvania;
  • “The Seam” from the University of Toronto;
  • “Garden District” from the University of Miami;
  • “Transition” from the University of Cincinnati;
  • “The Fuse” from the University of Cincinnati; and
  • “Corktown” from Harvard University.

The competition jury consists of renowned experts from diverse backgrounds in real estate development. Jurors represent a strategic mix of land use professionals, including developers, architects, urban designers, urban planners, investment bankers, and financial analysts. In addition to Weisbrod, the jury chairman, members of the jury are: Paul Bedford, chairman, Waterfront Toronto Design Review Panel and former Toronto chief city planner, Toronto; Robert E. Engstrom, president, Robert Engstrom Companies, Minneapolis; Merrie S. Frankel, president, Minerva Realty Consultants, New York; Bruce Kuwabara, partner, KPMB Architects, Toronto; Raymond C. Mikulich, managing partner and chief investment officer, Ridgeline Capital Group, New York; Sharmil Modi, principal, Modi Adventureprises, Boston; Vicki R. Mullins, executive vice president/chief financial officer, Newland Real Estate Group, San Diego; Alex Rose, senior vice president, Continental Development Corporation, El Segundo, California; Jamie Simchik, principal, Simchik Planning and Development, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Megan Torza, partner, DTAH, Toronto; and Leslie Woo, chief planning and development officer, Metrolinx, Toronto.