Fans push to rename street for developer

The man who helped bring Toronto’s past to life should be remembered with one of the city’s most historic streets, says architect Michael Taylor.

He’d like to see Market St., on the west side of the St. Lawrence Market, renamed for a man he calls a “champion of the city”: developer Paul Oberman, who was 53 when he died in a plane crash in March.

Oberman was a rare developer who bought and restored iconic properties such as the Flatiron building and Summerhill Station before renting them out to tenants such as the LCBO.

“We really lost someone in his prime,” Taylor says. “He was just getting going, and one can only dream of what he would have achieved through his life.”

An online petition has been set up to have Market St. named Oberman Way. Oberman’s company, Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, was is in the process of restoring four properties on the street’s west side when he died. The city requires that renaming proposals include a petition signed by business owners and residents in the area.

But changing the street name could prove difficult. City policy states that “existing names in themselves are part of the historic fabric of the city,” explains Walter Kowalenko, director of survey and utility mapping for the city.

Toronto grants rare exemptions and did so recently after Ted Rogers died, renaming a portion of Jarvis St., from Bloor St. south to Charles St. as Ted Rogers Way.

Woodcliffe is retrofitting three heritage buildings on the west side of Market and building a fourth at the southern end where it meets The Esplanade. The LCBO will rent the top floor, and the plan calls for restaurants with patios on the ground floor. Eventually, Oberman’s vision was to close the street to traffic and create glassed-in flower markets under the mezzanine that runs along the west side of the St. Lawrence Market.

“He made such a difference in the years that he was here with us,” says Taylor. “In fact, what he’s managed to do with Market St. is the very best thing anyone could do.”

The petition is part of a website built by the developer’s younger son, Evan Oberman. Oberman and his wife Eve Lewis had a large blended family with six children.

“When the memorial was held, there were so many photographs. Lots of people asked for copies or access to these,” wrote Lewis, who is now CEO and president of their company, in an email. The family posted them on the site.

If the city doesn’t change the street’s name, Kowalenko says another option is to recognize Oberman with secondary signage. The city, for example, added “Mirvish Village” street signs on Markham St., near Bloor St., in honour of the Honest Ed’s founder.


Inspired by that city’s efforts to close of a portion of Broadway Ave. in Times Square to traffic, Toronto is considering its own novel approach to creating public spaces on roadways.

Since 2009, the city has been in talks with Woodcliffe Landmark Properties, which is redeveloping the historic west side of Market St., to use part of the road in the summer so that ground-floor restaurants in the new development can have patios.

Currently, the sidewalk is too narrow to allow them.

The idea would be to have the developer pay for rebuilding the street in a flush style, with no curbs.

Bollards would be installed on the west side to separate the pedestrian walkway from the three lanes of southbound traffic. In summer, the bollards would be moved out to the other side of the west lane so it could be taken over by patios.

The idea is new to Toronto, but has been used in Halifax and on King St. in Kitchener.

Toronto already has two successful pilot projects for pedestrian-only zones on streets through the Ryerson and University of Toronto campuses. The city pays for planters and benches, but the schools pay to maintain the zones.

Another temporary street closing at Orchardview and Yonge St., just north of Eglinton, will continue until Thanksgiving. The space is used by a farmer’s market and the library, as well as people working in nearby office buildings.

The street closures are such a success that pedestrians are moving in before city workers get planters and benches out of their boxes, says Mark Van Elsberg, who works in the city’s pedestrian projects unit.

“Every time we’ve installed one of these things, we can’t even take stuff out of the boxes and people are sitting down and rejoicing.”

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