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The Explainer: U of T’s new real estate strategy

Four Corners aims to increase housing, generate $50 million annually by 2033

The Explainer: U of T’s new real estate strategy

U of T recently approved the Four Corners Strategy framework to guide the university in new real estate investments. Four Corners replaces the previous real estate strategy, which was implemented in 2007.

Four Corners Strategy goals

According to the Four Corners Strategy Report, one of the two main goals of Four Corners is to “facilitate amenity uses that support the [university’s] academic mission.” The key tenet of this goal is to expand available housing for faculty, staff, and students.

In an interview with The Varsity, Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships Scott Mabury said that a detailed housing survey of employees and graduate students had been conducted. With over 1,000 graduate students on waiting lists for housing each year, Mabury believes that there is a need to expand the available residences owned and operated by U of T.

“The solid outcome of that survey is that there is significant demand from faculty and senior staff for wanting to live near or at the University of Toronto,” said Mabury. “[We] have the confidence of building residential units that our faculty and staff will want to live in.”

Other objectives of the amenity use goal include providing space that “supports the university’s research and commercialization efforts,” creating “gathering and meetings spaces” for the campuses and broader community, and facilitating “retail uses serving the campus community’s needs.”

Another main goal of Four Corners is to “grow ‘other’ revenue while maintaining long-term real estate interests.” Given that U of T is heavily dependent on student fees and government and donor funding, the report suggests that diversifying U of T’s revenue streams with new sources will create “increased financial visibility, flexibility, and security.”

“Almost the entire university budget — 87 per cent — comes from students paying tuition fees or government operating grants,” said Mabury. “That’s not financially sustainable. We need to grow the remaining 13 per cent, to increase the resilience and sustainability of the institutional budget.”

The Four Corners Strategy aims to generate $50 million in operational funding per year by 2033 through its two cornerstone developments: a 23-storey residence at Spadina and Sussex Avenues and a 14-storey innovation centre at College Street and University Avenue.

Cornerstone developments

Revenue from the buildings will “be focused on a University of Toronto strategic fund to be invested into institutional priorities to advance the research and teaching mission of the university,” explained Mabury.

The residence at Spadina and Sussex will be the first new residence built at U of T in nearly two decades. First proposed in 2013, the building design has undergone many years of public consultations and workshops. It is expected to house 511 students and is scheduled to be built by 2021.

The innovation centre plans to house student, office, and retail spaces. According to Mabury, one quarter of the centre will be assigned for offices and academic support, while a second quarter will accommodate U of T Entrepreneurship, the Innovations & Partnerships Office, and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The third quarter has been set aside specifically for student startups. The final quarter is slated for scaling and successfully expanding companies.

Explaining the decision to devote half of its 250,000 square feet of floor space to startup companies and established corporate partners, Mabury said that the innovation centre is “designed to be a landing pad and a starting place for our students start-ups.”

“As they grow, [students] could move out of the startup part of the building into the scaling company… portion of the building,” Mabury said. “At some point they will grow large enough that [students] need to vacate both to make room for other companies coming along, but also because they’ve grown large enough that they need to be out and fully fledged and on their own.”

Mabury said that the building will also meet and exceed current provincial energy efficiency standards.

The Four Corners strategy will prioritize “building non-academic spaces we need today in a way that supports the University of Toronto’s academic and strategic priorities tomorrow.”

Regarding its longevity, Mabury says that if successful, “Four Corners will continue indefinitely into the future,” but that “from a planning perspective… we felt that a 15-year horizon was appropriate.”

Business Board approves smoke-free policy, real estate strategy

Smoke-free policy to move to Executive Committee for endorsement, real estate strategy to increase amenities

Business Board approves smoke-free policy, real estate strategy

The Business Board has voted to concur with the recommendation of the University Affairs Board (UAB) to enforce a smoking ban at U of T and to approve the university’s Four Corners Strategy in principle. These were two of the 14 items on the agenda for the board’s second meeting of the 2018–2019 academic year, held at Simcoe Hall on November 26.

As part of Governing Council, the Business Board is responsible for monitoring the cost-effectiveness of the university’s investments and for approving its business-related policies.

Smoke-free policy

The Business Board was the fourth stage of governance for the university’s proposed smoke-free policy, following recommendation by the UAB on November 19 and information sessions at the UTSC and UTM Campus Councils on November 20 and 21 respectively. The policy must now be endorsed and forwarded by Governing Council’s Executive Committee on December 4 and approved by Governing Council on December 13 in order to take effect.

Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat presented the item to the board.

If approved by Governing Council, the smoke-free policy would ban most forms of smoking at the university’s three campuses effective January 1. Exceptions to the policy are Indigenous ceremonies and medical requirements.

The policy would not apply to the university’s three federated colleges — the University of St. Michael’s College, the University of Trinity College, and Victoria University.

“I’ve talked to all three head provosts and presidents of the federated universities. They all anticipate going the same direction, although they are working through their own governance processes with respect to it so they may not go at the same time. I expect they will also be using similar signage to that which we are using,” Hannah-Moffat said. She added that affiliated institutions “immediately proximate to [U of T] like Knox College… are going to adopt [their own smoke-free policies].”

“Enforcement of this policy will be first and foremost about educating our community and also talking to our community about the risks of second-hand smoke and the risks of smoking,” Hannah-Moffat added. The university will continue to provide staff, faculty, and students smoking cessation support.

All present voting assessors at the meeting voted in favour of the item, meaning that the board concurs with the approval passed by the UAB.

Real estate strategy

The board also unanimously approved the Four Corners Strategy. According to Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury, the strategy has been in development for around four years. It will replace the existing real estate strategy implemented by the university in 2007 and act as a framework to guide the university when investing in new real estate projects.

“We’re calling this ‘Four Corners’ because we want it to cover all corners of the university, wherever they may be,” Mabury said. The strategy will be updated to include the university’s properties in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood, as well as the land housing the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that it bought last year. He added that the federated colleges will not be included, as “practically speaking, they run their [own] affairs.”

According to the report presented to the board, the strategy’s goals are “providing quality amenity spaces” and “generating financial returns directed to the operating fund through income of its improved properties.”

Mabury said that amenity spaces will include “innovation spaces, residential [spaces] to improve our ability to attract and retain our faculty and senior staff, [and] retail [spaces] to enliven and engage more effectively with the surrounding city as well as provide services for the academic community.”

A main goal is to expand available housing to faculty members, staff, and students. Mabury cited the graduate student waiting list of over 1,000 and the loss of senior staff and faculty due to a lack of available housing. “The goal here is to [make] the residential side respond — and it’s a dynamic situation and it’s not constant where that demand is.”

Other items

The in camera session comprised of the quarterly list of donations of $250,000 or more, administrative assessors’ reports, compensation increases for various staff and faculty, and approval of the membership of the board’s Striking Committee.

Hannah-Moffat also presented the Human Resources & Equity Annual Report of 2017–2018 and the Report on Employment Equity of 2017–2018, which include the university’s initiatives to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.