Soho Italia – the developer’s proposal

This view is from a helicopter over Dow's Lake. The Soho Italia is in the foreground; their approved Soho Champagne twin towers on a podium is shown a bit further back at 125 Hickory. A bit beyond is a gray condo tower approved at 13 stories for Domicle. Off to the left are two towers proposed by Arnon (office or condo undecided) currently at the OMB. Recognizable a bit futher left (west) are the existing 7 storey granite office towers of the CMPA. Notice how many vacant or underused lots are in this intersection area. Dow Honda, just on the near side of the O-Train cut, has a huge lot. There is also room for a third tower on the Arnon lot in the right foreground where two red brick office towers stand. Arnon also owns the big vacant parcel of land between the Prescott Hotel and existing 333 Preston three tower development owned by Sakto (home to Adobe, Sun Life, et al).

 Note: the land on the south side of Carling on each side of the O-train corridor is shown as green space. It is NOT parkland. The City’s Official Plan calls for this area along Carling to be developed as a high-density mixed-use centre, ie more condos and offices.

The proposed Soho Italia abuts the 7 storey co-op apartment building to its left. The houses facing Preston are commercial ground floor with residential above (sometimes), and residential on the side street. Conveniently, the side street connects to Hickory Street via the new ped bridge over the O-Train track. The ped bridge is being built by the city with a contribution from Soho Champagne, and maybe the other developers on the west side of the tracks. Maybe the City can hit up Soho Italia for a contribution too.

 The facade of the podium facing Preston appears to have a fair bit of glass. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a Photoshop rendering of this facade. How the building relates to the street is very important for a livable street.

In the background of the above picture you can spot the 125 Hickory St proposed Soho Champagne, two towers on a townhouse podium. That project has a nicer sidewalk face, with its three storey residential podium and usable space on the deck of the podium. The townhouses open directly onto the proposed multi-use (bike)path on the west side of the O-train corridor. The main MUP (bike path) is on the east (Preston) side of the cut.

A pedestrian view from the south side of the Carling intersection. The black podium level of the building is a parking garage. It is a Photoshop picture that doesn't bear too close scrutiny: the building is shown on top of Sydney Street and its actual site is still shown as a parking lot beyond.

 Personally, I think the seven-storey undulating black podium on the south (Sydney Street) facade is a real turn-off. Their vertical lettering Italia also competes with the Arch.

the building is essentially a square tower with wavy balconies added around it for interest
The height: 112m or 367'; the open space is 149m2, which is about 1600 sq ft, which might translate into 7' width of sidewalk added onto the Preston and Sydney frontages; there are 116 one bedroom and 116 two bedroom units; The city requires 116 parking spaces plus 44 for visitors; Starwood plans to provide 130 spaces (are any visitor?); they will provide 116 bike parking spaces as per the city requirements.

From google earth, I estimate the lot size as being 120′ on Preston; 95′ on Sydney. The previous site owner did not plan to build right up flush to the co-op building on the left, instead they showed a public right of way or easement running north from Sydney between the two buildings.

The ground floor plan is shown to the right. The lobby is from the Preston sidewalk, shown centre right. The proposed community benefit — the tradeoff for doubling the height limit — is a space for a Museum of Italian Culture, shown at the top right. The street-level Museum space is basically a welcoming  balcony overlooking the main space in the downstairs (beyond the U-curved wall leading to the curved staircase).

The plan to the left is the lower level (basement) which includes a lot more Museum space at the foot of the curving staircase. The area to the left of the stairs is at least two floors high.

Cross section of the tower, showing three levels of underground parking, and more controversially, five levels of above ground parking behind the undulating black wall podium.


Garage layouts. So much space is taken up by aisles to access the parking bays, it seems a shame we don't yet have affordable automated parking garages that would largely eliminate aisles and also several floors of parking.


typical floor plan shown on the right; the left picture shows what may be the upper level of the main lobby, which appears to be about ?? stories high, with a balcony access off the parking garage to the elevators. This does not seem to be the lobby of a entry-level condo building.


Looking up from the sidewalk.


When might this be built? Pending word from the developer Starwood Mastercraft, and assuming the City approves the project, the big question is whether they would build this building before the twin towers at 125 Hickory. Normally they would built the background towers first (say 3 years per tower, six years to fully sold status…) and then build the foreground 35 storey tower as it would block the views from the first building. OR, they might go for 500 Preston first and delay building the 125 Hickory towers. OR they might decide that the two buildings are in totally different markets, with the Hickory building going for $400 a sq ft (entry and investor market) and the 500 Preston selling at $500 a foot for a more prestige market. Only your developer knows for sure …

Tomorrow: this proposed building is not the only one that could be built at the north end of Preston. What would the area look like if the other lots were occupied by similar height buildings (why would any developer want to build less high)???

20 thoughts on “Soho Italia – the developer’s proposal

  1. Thanks for posting all of this… I’m interested to find out what happens!

    Do you know if an Italian Culture museum is something that the BIA (or municipality or others) wanted? I’m curious if the developer is responding to a community desire or came up with the idea themselves?

    It would be neat to have an Italian Culture museum down the street from the Vietnamese museum (if that’s still happening?)… I wonder where they’d get funds to operate it, and if it could compete with all of the excellent museums we already have…

    1. It is developer-sponsored. It is inevitable that once people get comfy with the idea of hitting up developers for “community benefits” in return for increased height, that the developers will add-in the “benefit’ beforehand, and use that as a carrot to get their proposals approved.

      As for the Vietnamese “museum”, I wonder why they are struggling to fund raise, when they might be better off getting Starwood to build a 35 storey building at the corner of Somerset and Preston (Soho Marco Polo – where east meets west!) and getting a free museum out of it.

      1. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing if developers are offering community benefits in exchange for increased height — within reason, of course (35 is probably outside the realm of reason). It might be the easiest way to secure community benefits, and certainly the cheapest (the comparison with the Vietnamese Museum is illustrative). I find the prospect kind of exciting – we could make a list of tangible community desires and watch the developers scramble to grab them up. 🙂

        I think I would prefer a tall building (that makes an attempt at being ped friendly at grade) and something of value to the community, then a building that conforms to zoning but offers nothing else. At least, I would rather this development then the sea of parking lots. We get: community benefit, density (which will bring amenities, among the other benefits), property tax renevue… All in all, I’m not complaining.

        With regard to the CDP (Charles’ point below), I agree, but I would also be disapointed to see things stagnate because the plan is not being prioritized by the City. As long as its being dragged out of 7 years, I’m fairly sympathetic (as a resident) to developers’ desire to proceed without it.

    1. It’s obviously way too few bike spots; and a lot depends on where the spots are in the building. They’ve gotta be prime locations or they wont be used. Now the developers sell car parking spots, and they sell better locations for more … so maybe it is time to go the NYC route and sell bike parking spots. If one parking spot is $30k, and you can get 5 bikes in it, that’s $6k per bike parking spot. Only $3k if you can squeeze ten bikes in (depending on space configuration and aisles). Hmm. Do I see a new profit centre??

  2. This is better than garbage like 89-91 Nepean, though still problematic.

    – The building is architecturally interesting, and (at least attempts) to present itself differently at the street level from the sky level.

    – There is a community benefit being proposed in exchange for the height increase; in other words, they are offering the community something in return for building something in their neighbourhood much larger than the community had expected. (This is standard practice in Vancouver, nice to see some developers doing it here–though of course it hasn’t bee finalized yet!)

    But some areas still of concern:
    – Eric points out that the area is to all be high density development, but the CDP still hasn’t been done for this area. It would be nice for the community to have a sense of what this area will look like (a formal one, that is), and have a say in the process that would determine that, so that we can plan for amenities so that we don’t end up with a bunch of exclusively office buildings and realize we left no place for something needed to service them.

    – The parking is a big issues. In the previous post, I pointed out that a lot-line-to-lot-line building this big would require a lot of parking, and WJM commented in reply that this was a problem for the architects and engineers. Unfortunately, we see that this is still a concern for the community because the first seven floors of the building are essentially unoccupied. Have a look at the buildings on the south side of Queen Street from Bronson-Bay, or near Elgin and Nepean. There’s something foreboding about them with all the parking at the first few levels–and that’s about half the 7 storeys of aboveground parking proposed for this one. Maybe the ground level retail will mitigate that.

    – As Chris B pointed out, there is very little bike parking on the site. Considering it’s along one major bike route (Canal paths) and another to be built (along the O-Train up to the Ottawa River), and considering they are suggesting 30 fewer car parking spaces than required, and considering they’re promoting active lifestyles and alternative transportation, and (lastly) considering they’re proposing to squish in a lot more people than would normally go in such a site, I’d expect them to trot out a heckuva lot more bike parking than the minimum to encourage residents to cycle.

    They are trying, but it’s still a really tall building on a really small site, with no breathing room for future adjacent buildings.

    1. Have a look at the buildings on the south side of Queen Street from Bronson-Bay, or near Elgin and Nepean. There’s something foreboding about them with all the parking at the first few levels–and that’s about half the 7 storeys of aboveground parking proposed for this one. Maybe the ground level retail will mitigate that.

      On the other hand, look at the Mondrian. Yes, ground level retail is YABSDM (Yet Another Bloody Shoppers Drug Mart) but it very successfully masks the overhead parking.

      Whoever built the west half of Place Bell could have learned a trick or two, had these buildings been built in a different historical order.

  3. Preston: The only street in Ottawa without a Shoppers?

    Any infusion of culture is a good thing, just change the southern facade. Keep the shiny lettering.

    1. Kind of amazing isn’t it (no shoppers)? Am I allowed to ask for a pharmacy then complain when Shoppers puts in an application to build? Just checking…. 🙂

    1. It would contribute a lot more to the conversation to back up your comment, like why you think it is hideious, and what, if anything, would make you like it less less?

  4. The design looks like an attempt to mimic Chicago’s Marina City, but it’s not very successful. They’ve added wavy balconies to a box. Marina City starts with a cylinder and the waves are symmetrical.
    It’s not terrible, but it’s not fantastic either.
    Debate will inevitably focus on height. I think the developer should count themselves lucky to have zoning for 22 floors and leave it at that.

    1. Uncool to reply to your own post but it’s just been pointed out to me that the design is based on Aqua Towers, not Marina City, in which case the imitation is even less flattering. The Acqua towers are a topographical design, with the balconies designed to resemble a contour map and exposed area of glass to resemble bodies of water. I never would have seen that in this design. It’s a very pale homage.
      (The only worse homage in Ottawa has to be the Modrian. You need more than a few red squares to pretend to reflect De Stijl.)

  5. FYI: If you want to check lot sizes, go to
    (you’ll probably have to install an autodesk plugin)
    On the left, you can search by address and then either get a report that tells you the lot size, garbage pickup day and the city councillor (I find that to be such a strange mishmash of info!) or zoom to the location on the map.

    Assuming this is 490 Preston, the lot is 100′ x 100′

  6. I applaud the developer and architect for thinking out of the box, and adding such an iconic figure to the ottawa skyline.

    May your fight be strong and willful against the NIMBYists, as you have my support for developing this building.

    It only makes sense to make high densification areas next to a subway line(if you can it that), to promote users from using public transit, and with the influx of people who would move into the building, it would be a plus for local businesses all around.

    Time to densify Ottawa’s urban centre boundaries, and this is one step to it!

    I support your cause!


    Joe Cannes

  7. The biggest problem is that the streetfront is not to street scale. This seems like something right out of North York.

    If the streetfront was instead three or four stories, to blend in with existing structures, it would be a much better build, with 22 stories or 32 stories becoming less of an issue).

    1. One thing to keep in mind, though, Tommy, is that most, if not all of these photos are from far away and/or overhead. It is a rather overwhelming big block (the 7-storey parkade/podium, that is–not counting the 35 storeys above it) when you’re standing on the sidewalk right next to it. It’s in the middle of a neighbourhood of Traditional Mainstreet buildings that are around two storeys tall.

      So even if the building architecture is nice (clearly a subject of dispute and of opinion) it’s questionable whether it is suitable for this area or if it would fit in better somewhere else.

      When the site was last rezoned fifteen or so years ago, the 20-storey tower proposed had a floorplate of only a fraction the size of the site, with a low podium that allowed ground-level uses. This building is not set back at all, and extends all the way to the lot lines, which will render adjacent lots undevelopable because they need to have a minimum distance to existing developments. If you do want to have tall towers like this at the south end of Preston, they should be developed in the context of a community design plan that sets out the sightlines, so that you don’t have the second one built blocking the view of the first one, so that you don’t have the wind shear effect, and so that you don’t end up with an odd lot that can’t be developed because the neighbouring buildings were built too close to the lot line.

  8. Thanks for posting all this information. I normally refrain from posting design criticism but this block of a tower is a bad rip-off of Jeanne Gang’s Aqua tower in Chicago without any of Aqua’s elegance or the context of the Chicago skyline. This is another example of the lack of elegance or understanding of context that developers and their design teams have for proper city building.

    Keep up the blog!

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