Interview with Zev Mandelbaum, Principal and co-founder of Marlin Spring Developments
As the son of Mark Mandelbaum, co-founder of Lanterra Developments, and grandson of Sandy Hofstedter, who launched H&R Developments in 1952, Zev Mandelbaum is no stranger to real estate and development. Before starting his own firm, Zev gained valuable industry experience working at Lanterra as the head of its Commercial Division, focusing on the development and design of premier retail spaces throughout downtown Toronto. Zev, along with his two brothers-in-law who also held senior positions at Lanterra, eventually left the company to start Marlin Spring Developments.
With over 60 years of combined experience and knowledge, Marlin Spring has quickly grown and diversified its portfolio, constructing a number of low-rise, mid-rise and mixed-use projects across the GTA. From boutique condominiums to spacious urban towns, developments by Marlin Spring are designed for a variety of homebuyers in all stages in life.
The developer’s latest project, Stockyards District Residences, brings it to the west end of the city. Toronto’s Stockyards District was once lined with meat-packing plants, but is currently experiencing a wave of renewal with new retail stores, cafes, event spaces and breweries setting up shop.
To learn more about Stockyards District Residences, Livabl sat down with Zev Mandelbaum to find out what attracted him to the area and his vision for the project.
Livabl: Tell us about Marlin Spring Developments and walk us through the genesis of the company.
Zev Mandelbaum: Marlin Spring was formed by myself, my brothers-in-law Benjamin Bakst and Elliot Kazarnovsky approximately four years ago. Originally, we all worked at Lanterra Developments with my father, Mark Mandelbaum, who is one of the owners of Lanterra Developments. Ben, Elliot and I worked there for a bunch of years in various capacities, with Ben taking on the construction side, Elliott more on the finance side, and myself handling acquisitions, zoning and leasing.
Long story short, like many families in the real estate world or with these kinds of scenarios, there’s a transition that has to happen. With the knowledge that succession planning and family businesses are difficult, we started our own joint venture partnership and created a new company called Marlin Spring. This allowed us the latitude to conduct deals ourselves and under the brand of Marlin Spring. It also allows each of us to have a sense of individualism and identity, as for example, I myself own a separate company called Altree Developments which does a lot of signature living projects and focuses more on luxury residential in Toronto.
L: What is it about building homes that appeals to you the most?
ZM: Building a home to me is more than building a home — it’s building a nucleus around a person. When you build a condominium, you’re basically creating a lifestyle. As homebuilders we’re creating a person’s world or orbit that they live in. You essentially play a part in their lifestyle, including where they’re going to shop, eat and how they interact with the building and its amenities.
If you capture the essence of a neighbourhood correctly by constructing a building within it, as opposed to one that stands out of the neighbourhood, what you are essentially doing is building a home for somebody where they can completely relate to their surroundings. That is something that is very exciting to me.
L: Your latest project, Stockyards District Residences, brings you to the city’s west end. What attracted you to this area?
ZM: The Stockyards is a special place. If you look at the coolest up-and-coming neighbourhoods around the world, you’ll find areas like Fulton Market in Chicago or the Meatpacking District in New York. Maybe it’s the grunginess of the brick or the history steeped in it, but there’s definitely character there.
When you walk down the street, you feel the pulsating life. Whereas some areas in Toronto are cool with tall towers and all, you just don’t feel that pulsating life, energy and cultural aspect that you get in areas like the Stockyards. There’s so much history there. Did you know that there was prohibition in the Stockyards into the 1990s? You were a bootlegger if you brought alcohol there in the 1990s!
L: Did you spend a lot of time in the Stockyards even before considering it as a potential development site?
ZM: Yes, I did. I’ve always wanted to be in the Stockyards because it’s a marriage of what I call the trifecta. You have amazing accessibility with easy access to the streetcar and GO service, you’re between Runnymede and Keele, so you can get pretty much anywhere quickly, and you’re also a short walk to the Junction.
Next you have the retail and amenities. There’s an abundance of green spaces, parkland and amazing retail nearby. You have your Starbucks, Metro, LCBO, Beer Store and the entire Stockyards Plaza to check out the restaurants, clothing stores and everything else that you need.
Finally, as the Stockyards continues to develop, you’re going to have a very cool and trendy neighbourhood where the value is just going to increase over time.
L: What do you think the Stockyards will look like 10 years from now?
ZM: I hope that all developers that come after me will connect with the neighbourhood, understand its history and really integrate that into their projects and into their architecture so that it looks like one of these historically cool places. I think then you’re going to see organic growth within the neighbourhood, so more cafes, more breweries, galleries, studios. A lot of stuff that is going to create a cultural place so that the Stockyards isn’t just a place that’s on a map and just another neighbourhood. Instead, I see it as being an authentic Toronto destination.
L: Let’s talk about the building’s design. Which architecture firm did you work with and what was the inspiration behind the design?
ZM: We worked with Graziani + Corazza Architects on the design of the building. When it came to the architecture, I actually travelled to Chicago and New York for inspiration. I took a bunch of photos of the Fulton Market and various areas of Manhattan.
We also put together a collage of hundreds of photos of different types of buildings in Stockyard-like areas around the world. We sat down and looked at all the photos and asked ourselves, how can we take the heritage in these examples and incorporate it into our building? I think the final result is a building that really amplifies a blend of outdoor living with terraces and lounges, elements of industrial design seen in the windows and brick cladding, and lots of natural materials, especially in the interiors.
L: Tell us more about the interiors. Did you work with a local interior design firm? What types of finishes can prospective homebuyers expect?
ZM: I work with only the best and in this case I worked with the award-winning Kelly Cray of U31. What I like about Kelly is that he lives in Leslieville in a condominium that is very similar to an old industrial building, so he very much understands what we were trying to create. Kelly really worked with us and shared the same vision for the project.
In terms of finishes, homebuyers can expect features like contemporary cabinets with integrated lighting in kitchens, upgraded countertops, laminate floors and nine-foot ceilings throughout. The suites also incorporate plenty of outdoor space with massive terraces and balconies that can actually accommodate patio furniture. With some terraces as large as 400 square feet, gone are the days of the micro balconies so often seen in the downtown core.
Another unique element of the building is what we call the townhomes in the sky. As Toronto becomes too expensive for anyone to afford, we’ve created a series of townhouses within the condominium building for affordability. These units are situated at the back of the building on the seventh and eighth floors and boast spacious two-storey designs. The layouts offer lots of space for families and include a terrace on the main floor off of the living room, as well as a rooftop terrace above.
Livabl: What kind of amenities will be available to residents?
ZM: When planning the amenities we wanted to make this a family-friendly building, so we’ve designed both indoor and outdoor children’s play areas. Outdoors, we have a playground where the kids can play, as well as a dog run for your pets. Inside, we have a playroom that will be fully-stocked, so kids can do art projects and play indoors.
Other amenities include a grand lobby with a skywalk, games room and a full fitness centre complete with a yoga room. Also, going back to our concept of indoor/outdoor living, we wanted to create something seamless to connect the two. So we’ve created multiple covered lounges and dining nooks for entertaining, including an elegant party room that opens to an outdoor terrace with a fire pit.