Mississauga developer planning, building at 3 sites in St. Catharines and Welland

Sphere Developments’ collection of three stacked townhome projects in the Niagara Region are designed to address changing housing markets in St. Catharines and Welland, according to the company’s president.

Rohan Gawri, president of the Mississauga-based developer, told RENX Homes he believes the Niagara Region is experiencing major changes in infrastructure, transportation and post-secondary education, making it “ripe” for more development, density and gentrification.

“Us launching a project in St. Catharines of 104 units and us able to sell 90-plus per cent of it within a very short period of time . . . that tells me that there is strong demand of people wanting to move to St. Catharines and people wanting to downsize and people wanting to buy more attainable price points of real estate.”

The choice of stacked townhomes specifically targets this ambition, he said.

Sphere is a residential and commercial developer that focuses on the Greater Golden Horseshoe outside of downtown Toronto. Most of its projects are in Niagara, Gawri said.

A personal and corporate change of pace

Sphere’s most recent developments in Southwest Ontario represent a change in career direction for Gawri, and from the company’s initial focus.

Gawri used to work at MOD Developments, a high-rise developer focused on downtown Toronto. He transitioned into the custom-built home market with his business partner AJ Uppal, which prompted the pair to look outside Toronto for the kind of housing they wanted to build because of the high fees and costs for land in the urban cores.

They began searching for opportunities in the outskirts of the core markets of the 416 area.

“Being able to go to the outskirts allows us to have a little lower input costs, where we can then splurge on certain things to make an overall great project,” he said.

Sphere completed a handful of custom homes in locations like The Queensway, Oakville and Mississauga.

It then developed 154 Riverside Dr. in Welland, a 120-unit townhome project.

Sphere’s current projects

Of its current projects, the one furthest along the development process is LOT 16 in St. Catharines. With a gross floor area of approximately 111,000 square feet, it will host 104 stacked townhomes ranging from two- to three-bedroom choices with den options. Over 90 per cent of the units have been sold.

Prices for the unsold units are in the $600,000 range. They range from 900 square feet to 1,300 square feet.

Sphere secured a $41.9-million construction loan with Oakbank Capital Group as the mortgage broker for LOT 16, according to a LinkedIn post.

The site it lies on used to be a much-loved ball hockey arena, Gawri said, putting pressure on Sphere to “uphold the prestige of this address” by building a strong sense of community. Sphere hopes to achieve this with natural amenities like Princess Park to its north.

Construction has started on LOT 16, and Sphere expects the first occupancy by April 2025.

Its next project is Zenscape, located on 455 Welland Ave. in Welland. Gawri expects Zenscape to have a larger scope than LOT 16 at over 208,000 square feet of gross floor area and over 220 stacked townhome units.

Gawri said it is too early to disclose the square footage for the various units, but they will range from one- to three-bedroom configurations.

Like LOT 16, Zenscape will seek to nurture community with open green spaces and internal parks.

Gawri said it’s also too early to disclose the planned price points for Zenscape, only saying Sphere is “aiming for a very, very attractive price point” he expects will make headlines.

Phased construction is slated to start by the end of 2024 to early 2025. The first occupancy is expected by mid-2026, and the remainder in late 2027.

The second stacked townhome project in Welland is 526 Ontario Rd.

Planned for 76 two- and three-bedroom units, it will be set in a residential nook, according to Gawri. Groceries and commercial buildings will be just to the north; the Welland Canal to its west; and other residential properties to its south.

Sales are not expected to launched until late 2024 to early 2025. As with Zenscape, Gawri said it’s too early to disclose prices.

Both of the Welland projects are in the rezoning stage.

Most prospective buyers for the three projects are people looking to enter the real estate market as investors or to buy their first home, the Sphere president said.

Parking: the rarely considered factor

The choice of stacked townhomes in Niagara Region as opposed to multiresidential housing is due to a little-known but important factor in cost according to Gawri: parking. Residential projects in cities such as St. Catharines, Thorold and Welland have higher parking ratios than in Toronto because cars are a virtual necessity.

“There will be more people that buy a unit who will require more parking than someone buying a downtown Toronto condo,” he said.

A multiresidential site of 400 to 500 units would require 600 to 700 parking spots built underground or in podium garages, Gawri said, making construction more expensive.

A medium-density stacked townhouse project that merges Gawri’s background in high-rise development and custom-built housing is more desirable for most buyers in these communities than a concrete high-rise, Gawri said.

Sphere has four other residential plans in development:

  • 875 Kingston Road, a two-tower mixed-use condominium of 337 units in Pickering;
  • a nine-unit project of three-bedroom homes in Burlington;
  • a nine-unit luxury bungalow townhome project in Georgetown; and
  • a custom five-bedroom home in Oakville.

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