Jeff Hull: Developing Ossington – Toronto’s coolest street

How real estate investment and development firm Hullmark is helping to shape the neighbourhood that is known as the place to be in Toronto.

Ossington has undergone a major transformation from 2018 to now, and there is much more to look forward to, thanks to the work of Hullmark.

Hullmark is a vertically integrated urban mixed-use developer and asset management firm headquartered in Toronto. We spoke to Jeff Hull, president of Hullmark, about their key role in the development of Ossington.

Hullmark was founded in 1950 by Jeff ’s grandfather, a Polish immigrant, Murphy Hull, who came to Canada looking for the Canadian dream. When Hull moved to Canada, he started in the industry as a plasterer, but, through hard work, Hull was able to move into homebuilding and real estate development, eventually founding Hullmark. The company has built its success by investing in suburban communities and mixed- use neighbourhoods. Today, Hullmark is still a family-run company that is shaping neighbourhoods all over Toronto.

In 2008, Jeff Hull became the president of Hullmark, taking over from his grandfather. He has helped transition the company from a suburban and residential focus to urban development and asset management. This ability to change strategy and pivot with the times is what keeps Hullmark at the top of the industry.

“When my grandparents were young, they were Polish immigrants who lived in the downtown west of Toronto, and, in their day and age, being successful meant moving out to the inner suburbs, getting more space and a detached home. That was the ideal at the time, and so I think we are continuing to follow the ideal way of living and working, but today it’s different, it’s kind of come back full circle where people want to live in a walkable urban neighbourhood with great amenities, and so I think they were following the dream at the time, and we are continuing to follow that. It is the dream that has changed.”

With a passion for real estate, Jeff wanted to carry on the tradition and success that his grandparents had in starting the business.

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“Two wonderful things about real estate that are maybe more unique than in other businesses: the tactile nature of real estate — all the time and effort you spend working on real estate. You can touch and feel the work at the end of the day, and I think there is something rewarding about that. The other thing I would say is real estate is very much a business built on personal relationships, and I find that very rewarding as well. You invest in good people and, over time, that ends up being very good for business, and I think that is an easy thing for me to get excited about.”

Although Hullmark has worked on developing many neighbourhoods, Ossington is a particularly special and unique place. Ossington Avenue was named one of the world’s coolest streets in the world by Time Out and is being compared to the likes of SoHo and le Marais. These areas are known for being hip, cool, trendy and effortless. These are neighbourhoods that represent the beating heart of a city, their vibe, culture and feel, making them the perfect spot for both locals and travellers.

Ossington offers all the aspects of a hip and modern street, but with the charm, history and character that makes it so unique. As much of Toronto is modernizing by knocking down older buildings, Hullmark is choosing to maintain their integrity. “Especially today, people crave authenticity, and, working with older buildings, there’s a connection to the past, a craft that can’t be recreated, that has a sense of authenticity that people really value. I think old buildings — particularly once we’ve had a chance to renovate them and bring them up to modern building standards — have this enduring appeal, and I would say it’s because of the authenticity of them.”

Ossington is an area to which Jeff feels a strong personal connection, having spent a lot of time on Ossington as a young person. “I think Ossington is unique in the sense that it has a broad range of different uses on the street, between fashion retail, hospitality, bars, restaurants and service-based businesses for the local community. Ossington is very small in comparison to other major high streets in Toronto, so I think, by investing in Ossington, we could have a bigger impact by owning fewer buildings. The size of it made it possible for a private real estate investor like us to create change, and I think over the past 10 years we have shown the type of change we have been able to create. It just had these inherent characteristics; it’s small and we could affect change.”

When Hullmark undertakes a project, they look to create the most impact possible in a neighbourhood. This includes tenancy curation, investing in design and getting involved with the community. Using these three tools, they can transform a neighbourhood over their long-term investment. “Our vision is to make it the street that businesses feel like they must be on to appeal to the coolest demographic in the city. We want it to be the place in downtown west — the hub for creative people and cool businesses — and we have seen new retail businesses that have targeted Ossington as the first store location that they are going to open in Toronto.”

With so many great places to visit on Ossington, it may be hard to choose where to start.

Some of Jeff ’s favourite spots include:

    • Ride Cycle Club: a spin studio from Vancouver that has a great sense of community and design.
    • Lost & Found: one of the premier high-end menswear stores in Canada.
    • Mamakas Taverna: one of the best Greek restaurants in the city.
    • Bellwoods Brewery: one of the best craft breweries in the city, with an amazing ambiance and extensive patio.
    • Formula Fig: a new beauty spa concept, focused on millennial clients and high design.
    • Prime Seafood Palace: a Michelin-star fine dining restaurant by celebrity Chef Matty Matheson, designed by Architect Omar Gandhi.

The mix of local independent retailers, restaurants, international flagship stores and everything in between is one of the things that makes Ossington so special. All these businesses perfectly complement each other, where you would be able to spend an entire day on the street. From getting a facial, to dining, to drinking, Ossington offers the perfect mix of businesses that make other high streets worldwide so successful.

Some of Ossington’s success is thanks to its perfect location. The downtown west is the beating heart of trendy Toronto. Ossington is perfectly placed right by Trinity Bellwoods (the largest public park in the downtown core) and is the connector between Queen West and Dundas West. “It is the coolest street in the coolest area, and it occupies this strategic place. You’ve got the flagship stores beside pho restaurants that have been around for 30 years, that kind of high-low, authentic urban experience I think people are drawn to. It feels both high end and also gritty, at the same time.”

Ossington is a street that needs to be experienced. It offers some of the best businesses in the city on one street, but what makes it so special is the feeling you get once you are there. The people, the sense of community, the design and the ambience are what make Ossington one of the top streets in the world.

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Alexandra Aulicino

Alexandra Aulicino