Sky’s the Limit for Four Seasons Condo (Toronto Star, Sept. 21,2008)

By Tony Wong

Hotel looking for a buyer for its $30 million Toronto penthouse.

At $30 million, the Four Seasons Hotel penthouse in downtown Toronto has the most expensive asking price of any condominium in Canada.

But will anybody buy it?

Developer Alan Menkes put the prime space up for sale this week – although the timing could certainly have been better. Stock markets globally from New York to London to Shanghai have been roiled this week with a credit crunch that has seen investment bank Lehman Brothers file for bankruptcy protection – leaving many of the potential super rich buyers a lot lighter in the wallet.

But during an interview in the plush Brian Gluckstein-designed showroom, Menkes appeared optimistic.

“You always have to be mindful of what’s happening in the world, but if you look at what’s happening in our local market, we haven’t really been affected by the same issues,” said Menkes. “The reality is, if someone is in the market for this kind of product they are somewhat insulated from any downturn.”

It won’t hurt that the real estate agent who brings in the buyer will have what must be the largest commission cheque for a condo. Although at $1 million, the agent wouldn’t be able to afford the cheapest suite in the building.

“We thought we should offer a special commission for a special suite,” said Menkes.

Certainly, there are few condos on the market today that can compare with what Menkes is offering.

Located at the northeast corner of Bay St. and Yorkville Ave., the penthouse, on the 55th floor of the west tower, will have 9,038 square feet of living space and a separate 680 square foot of living space for staff.

“This is the ultimate in super luxury living – you can say it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a home,” said designer Gluckstein with a chuckle.

The home has 12-foot-ceilings, including a floor-to-ceiling glass galleria. The 2,500 square foot master bedroom – bigger than most homes – has a fire place and private terrace. There is also a theatre room and a walk-in wine cellar that can accommodate 800 bottles.

The design is haute Gluckstein – the go-to designer for Canada’s rich and famous – glamorous, rich materials including marble and dark woods with a subtle Art Deco touch, but displayed with considerable restraint.

Gluckstein spent a year interviewing potential purchasers before unveiling his design, although the purchaser will have the final say in configuring the home, including putting in a pool if they want.

Menkes says he expects the buyer to be local. In fact, since the residences went on sale just over a year ago, the vast majority of suites have been sold to local buyers.

The eventual buyer may be someone downsizing from a large Forest Hill residence, or someone who will use the condo for six months of the year while having homes in other parts of the world, said Menkes.

So far, the most expensive condominium sold in the city is still to be built – the $25 million penthouse at One Bloor – which was sold to an unidentified Hong Kong buyer. Developer Michael Gold confirmed that the sale for the 7,500 square foot property is still firm.

“The world is becoming a smaller place, and we are seen as a very secure and safe spot to invest,” said Gold. “We are still inexpensive compared to other cities.”

A CB Richard Ellis survey for the Star says top quality properties in the city run at about $1,400 per square foot compared to say $11,800 per square foot in London, where some apartments have asking prices of more than $100 million. In New York, the 16-room penthouse at the Pierre Hotel is still for sale at $70 million (U.S.).

However, the Four Seasons is selling for more than $3,000 per square foot – a lofty price when only five years ago the $1,000 square foot barrier was considered the pinnacle of pricing. But Menkes has already defied the odds by selling almost 80 per cent of the building and has starting construction despite commanding the most expensive average prices in the city.

The achievement is all the more remarkable considering that Menkes started selling only after his closest competitors, which include Trump and Ritz brands, had already entered the market. One reason is the strength of the Four Seasons brand. The Toronto based company is considered the top luxury hotel operator globally – and the new building, which will be completed in late 2011, is the flagship.

Toronto realtor Mike Donia, meanwhile, cautions that the market for high-end real estate is already softening in some neighbourhoods as the economy slows.

“When the stock market is booming it’s Baskin and Robbins, every flavour you can eat and people will buy it, but that’s not the case right now,” says Donia, who specializes in high-end realty.

“The first thing people start selling in a downturn is all their luxury stuff – and that includes cars and real estate.