Competent Owner Representation Brings Bold Concept Closer to Reality

Innisfil, with a population of over 36,000 and located just under 100 kilometers north of downtown Toronto, is a small town with some very big ideas. Many experts would agree, these are ideas whose time has come – especially considering the way world has, and will continue to change.

The Town of Innisfil has embraced a future-friendly approach to managing its operations. This unique culture of imagination, tempered with a good measure of pragmatism, extends to the town’s agile, progressive approach to planning for growth and development.

According to the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including surrounding municipalities within a commuting distance, is one of the top three fastest growing regions on the continent. Indeed, many comparably sized cities such as Chicago are losing population at the rate Toronto is gaining people (pre-pandemic).

Innisfil is not spared this infectious pressure on growth. In fact, Innisfil’s location adjacent to a major commuting corridor only amplifies the pressure – and with that, offers enormous opportunities to build in new and innovative ways.

In response, multiple parties have come together to create The Orbit – an innovative mixed use community planned for the west and south sides of Innisfil. Upon completion, The Orbit will house between 30,000 to 150,000 people spread over 40 million square feet.

Aerial Rendering of The Orbit, Innisfil, ON
Aerial Rendering of The Orbit Looking North-East

Experts agree, the GTA’s sprawl of the last half century is unsustainable. They assert, we are overdue for a change in approach to the way we plan, design, and build new communities. They argue the sprawl of detached houses with their high maintenance yards in neighborhoods highly dependent on cars, scales poorly, is inefficient in terms of energy utilization, and moreover lacks the organic encouragement of healthy community building.

The Orbit is a rarity in North American urban growth. It leaves the single detached housing paradigm behind and instead offers a refreshing glimpse into what it possible when we detach from obsolete ideas. Not convinced? Spend some time getting to know The Orbit and you may just change your mind.

Single detached houses are nowhere to be found in The Orbit. Instead, planners understand that scale, density management, along with smart use of common space are now critical factors in building sustainable neighborhoods. Done right, all of this comes with an improvement in quality of life in countless respects – some of which extend way beyond those who live in the development itself. As a “pedestrian first” community, these design principles bode well for pragmatists who know the days of commuting by car are rapidly fading in the rear-view mirror.

Core of The Orbit, innisfil, ON
The Orbit’s Hub Bisected by the Barrie GO Train line

Regional Transit a Crucial Strategic Asset

The Orbit’s centerpiece, and arguably the project’s raison d’être, is a new GO transit station with service into the GTA, the south terminus being Toronto’s newly renovated Union Station – Canada’s busiest transit hub with over 300,000 trips passing through every day (pre-pandemic). The northern terminus of the line is just north of Innisfil in the thriving city of Barrie.

Described as The Orbit’s “center of gravity” by its designers, the more “left-brained” among us can think of the development’s topology as a hub and spoke (think bicycle wheel) with the neighborhood radiating out from the GO station at the hub. This in of itself is a radical and welcome departure compared to most other regional GO train stations where sprawling parking lots or stacked garages typically loom over station boarding platforms. With these designs, the rider experience can be fatiguing and uninspiring as the transition from train to car ends a day’s commute.

Instead, with The Orbit GO station, riders emerge immediately into a thriving, lively neighborhood built from the ground up for people. For the majority, that last leg at the end of a day’s commute will be by foot or bicycle. Commuters will interact with their surroundings as opposed to feeling compelled to escape from them.

Public Space Above GO Station, The Orbit, Innisfil, ON
Public Space Surrounding GO Station

All Paths Lead to the GO Station

The hub and spoke topology of The Orbit sees walkways, cycle paths and roadways emanating from the GO station. The multitude of “spokes” inherently shorten walking and cycling distances. At the extreme, the plan shows that an 800-meter walk will take one from the GO station to the outer perimeter of The Orbit.

Innisfil GO Station Platform
Rendering of Innisfil GO Station Platform

The station will have an underground parking garage, but the expectation is it will be used primarily for commuters coming from beyond The Orbit. Indeed, as a regional transit connection, The Orbit GO station’s catchment area will extend some distance beyond The Orbit itself.

About the Barrie GO Line

The Barrie line links the city of Barrie in the north with Toronto’s Union Station in the south. The Orbit station will be one of the final stops on the northern stretch of the line. Key facts about the Barrie GO train line:

15 stops through Simcoe County, York Region and the City of Toronto.
Key intermodal connections with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to the south:
  • Line 1 subway | Downsview Park station | North portion of the line’s west leg.
  • Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown LRT | Caledonia station | Opening in 2023.
  • Line 2 subway | Lansdowne station | 10-minute walk to the Bloor Street UP station on Toronto's dedicated rail line linking Union Station downtown to Pearson International Airport.
  • Line 1 subway | Union Station | TTC subway’s southern-most station located in Toronto’s financial district. Climate controlled, direct access to all GO trains and regional GO bus services. In addition, direct access to Toronto's internationally acclaimed climate controlled PATH pedestrian network.

Upgrades planned for the Barrie line:

  • Two-way service.
  • Conversion to Regional Electrified Rail (RER).
  • All day service.
  • 15 minute frequency.

Top Drawer Feasibility and Capital Finance Planning Services

To move a project of this scale and scope forward, several disparate agencies of various disciplines need to collaborate effectively. Expert oversight in the Concept phase is essential in ensuring the project unfolds with key milestones delivered on time, on budget and with the highest degree of quality attainable. It was under the Concept phase that The Gordon + Gordon Group Inc. (GGGI) was retained. GGGI’s depth of experience in assembling and managing project organizations of high complexity was a key factor in the firm winning this engagement.

An immediate priority for GGGI was assisting in the time-sensitive GO station design and tendering process. This involved navigating the Town of Innisfil’s internal processes while collaborating with the other project stakeholders namely, The Province of Ontario, Metrolinx and the Developer.

Design and construction of the GO station is a non-negotiable prerequisite for the subsequent phases of The Orbit. In response, GGGI developed a project charter and timeline to achieve key milestones for pre-construction of the station. Actual construction will commence in 2022.

Moreover, GGGI established a project charter in support of The Orbit Potential and Innovation Plan (OPIP), as it relates to the GO station project. Included in the charter was assembling the project team, developing a financial model, along with a governance structure to deliver the OPIP.

The purpose of the OPIP is to, among other things, specify land use while allowing for the integration of technology, new building construction, economic development, flex spaces, social inclusion, sustainable construction, placemaking and effective infrastructure. GGGI advocated for The Town of Innisfil and their vision of the station in the context of the broader Orbit project, including the OPIP. This meant, among other things, working closely with the design team in the development of a GO station that challenges the status quo while also keeping within market and technology constraints.

Conclusion

The outcome of The Orbit as a whole is directly dependent on successful completion of the GO station project. With construction of the station planned to commence in 2022, the necessary preparatory work has been done. Thanks to GGGI’s Feasibility and Capital Finance Planning Services, all stakeholders can be assured the project will stay on time and on budget.

We look forward to providing you with updates throughout the life of this exciting and truly unique project.