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Big gay condo gets buzz

First of its kind project draws international attention

Since it was announced on Jan 25, the Vivat Group’s condo for Toronto queers has generated a lot of interest, including international news coverage.

“It’s another stage of acceptance of gays and lesbians,” says Vivat’s Gordon Davies. “We’ve had 12 interviews in two days from local and international press, with coverage including Reuters [an international news wire service].

“People associate this with same-sex marriage, as the domestic side of gay life, aside from clubs and clothes. This is community housing.”

The Bohemian, as the proposed building has been named, is slated for development at the corner of King and Sherbourne – a neighbourhood some are speculating could be the next gaybourhood. Davies says builders could be breaking ground on the condo as early as the end of this year.

So what’s so gay about the project? The residents, hopefully. The current marketing campaign is clearly aimed at queers, declaring the project “Canada’s – and possibly the world’s – first condominium built specifically for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi, trans] community and our friends.”

“The plan was originally targeted to the older gays,” says Davies, “not for assisted living, but targeting the older demographic. Then we realized by talking to our members that they were interested in intergenerational living.”

Davies and business partners Joe Gibbons and Carlyn Moulton all plan to live in the building. Units in what is proposed to be a 12-storey building can now be reserved for a $2,000 refundable deposit. At this point, it’s uncertain what units will sell for. If the units don’t get bought up by Vivat members, the builder, Context Development Inc, will open it up to the general public.

Many residents of the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood already know what it’s like to live in a building with predominantly gay neighbours. What’s different with Vivat’s project is that it’ll be located outside the perceived safety of the Church and Wellesley.

“Lesbian and gay buyers are very sophisticated,” says realtor Kristyn Wong-Tam of Coldwell Banker Terrequity Reality, who specializes in downtown properties. “They like to buy good quality homes in good neighbourhoods. Most ask for a home in a place that is going to be accepting of them, where they can be out, themselves and safe.

“King East at Sherbourne is turning into a hot little neighbourhood. Given the location it certainly should succeed.”

Wong-Tam gives the neighbourhood two thumbs up, but other queers are questioning who’s getting pushed out to make room for the gentrification of the area.

“How does this queer building development relate to the social problems we see in the neighbourhood? Is there any effort to maintain services to people who are poor in that area?” asks Rob Teixeira, a grad student and activist who rents in a largely queer-occupied building in the village.

“Queer people with money are participating in removing the street life that queer people needed to get rolling in the past. Middle-class gentrification will take away the opportunity for spontaneous interaction and will homogenize social life, bleaching out adventure and social mixing that is part of rejuvenating social and political ideas and movements. It will have a blowback effect on queer life.

“If you’re coming out at 19 or 20 you’re coming out into an increasingly middle-class culture, the unplanned magic that occurs from diversity is leached away. What young queers see are nice squeaky-clean bars. Queer culture is becoming increasing middle class.”