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.
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.”