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Condominium Profile: The Palace Pier
The Palace Pier – Where Everyone Is Family
By James Russell | Other articles by James Russell
For Vladimir Volkovecki, a long-serving member of The Palace Pier's maintenance staff, "This building is like family." For Nashz, Vladimir's son and The Palace Pier's Hip Hop instructor, the residents and staff of The Palace Pier are his extended family. And for Catherine D'Urzo, one of The Palace Pier's Directors, "I absolutely fell in love," is how she describes her first visit to The Palace Pier in her search for a safe and nurturing community of kindred spirits to raise her son Michael.
The name 'Palace Pier' comes from an actual amusement pier, located near the site of the current towers. The 'Palace of Fun' was to become an illuminated pier stretching nearly a third of a mile into Lake Ontario, and consisting of a palatial ballroom, a roller rink (converted for ice skating in the winter months), a 1,400-seat theatre, an outdoor band pavilion, several restaurants, souvenir stores and a steamship dock. Regrettably, only a few hundred feet of the pier was completed, just enough to accommodate the ballroom that, on June 10, 1941, had the distinction of being opened by Hollywood film star and comedian Bob Hope, who was in town promoting his latest film. The ballroom and partially completed pier were destroyed in a fire, but from its ashes rose The Palace Pier, a condominium of unmatched luxury and good governance.
Nestled between the Humber River to the east and Humber Bay Park to the west, The Palace Pier was completed in 1979 and consists of 433 suites ranging in size from 920 to 3595 square feet. With forty-six floors and eighty-five units over three thousand square feet, the term 'downsizing' hardly applies to residents moving to The Palace Pier from detached or semi-detached houses. "The Palace Pier is typical of lifestyles in those days," says the Board's president Peter Leon of the opulent and spacious design of The Palace Pier's suites and common elements. Indeed, the list of amenities includes a tennis court, table tennis room, six BBQs, squash courts, convenience store, spa, indoor pool and pool patio, a games room, library, billiards room, meeting room, party room and gym. The Palace Pier's own restaurant is run by chef Maria Mirenzi, who describes The Palace Pier as "such a good community". Maria not only buys fresh produce from the nearby Food Terminal but conducts cooking classes for The Palace Pier's many kids.
And speaking of kids, "they love it here," says children's writer, journalist and resident Jackie Burns, author of "The Condo Kids", a lovely series of adventure books inspired by The Palace Pier's community of little people.
As public transportation west of the Humber was in its infancy back in 1979, The Palace Pier, and her neighbouring building Palace Place, initiated a dedicated shuttle service for their residents. Their two buses operate every half hour, ferrying residents not only to Union Station but to Food Basics, Loblaw's, Cloverdale Mall, Sherway Gardens and Walmart.
But it's not The Palace Pier's amazing amenities or huge suites that set the condominium apart from any other; it's the commitment, enthusiasm, and friendliness of its residents whether serving on committees, the Board, or simply greeting their neighbours on the elevator.
Not surprisingly, The Palace Pier enjoys an exceptional level of resident participation, reflected in the nearly dozen clubs and committees, all of which make use of the generous pool of expertise and experience that the residents bring to the table:
- Technical Committee: which advises the Board on all projects, including the building envelope, building automation system, electric vehicle charging, electrical capacity and distribution, geothermal heating, rooftop deck design and construction.
- Social Committee: Responsible for organizing The Palace Pier's four or five yearly social events.
- Tennis Committee: Responsible for all matters relating to the tennis court, including booking rules, the Junior Program and advising on what court upgrades will be necessary every year.
- Parents Committee: which oversees the kid's program and advises on all matters related to children and families, including rules and resources for children, and plans events and lessons for kids.
- Communications Committee: Responsible for producing The Palace Pier's newsletter and advising the Board on communication matters.
- And special purpose committees, which have included: the Fan Coil Replacement Committee, Landscaping Committee and the Rules Committee.
The Palace Pier's Welcoming Committee not only produces and updates a multi-page Welcome Package but conducts personal tours for new residents to orient them to the building, grounds, amenities, services and informs new residents about The Palace Pier's table tennis, book, film, bridge, coffee, golf, choir, kid's club and the seasonal but active tennis club, headed by Norm Merkosky. ""The Tennis Club organizes events for its members, including: competi- tive ladders, competitions with other tennis clubs, annual Club BBQ, Rogers Cup outing, Breakfast at Wimbledon, Awards Dinner and so on. They also publish a newsletter for members," says Norm Merkosky, the Tennis Club chair.
"When I moved here in 2005 the tennis court was empty," says Norm, who spearheaded The Palace Pier's tennis community's growth to its current membership of more than a hundred members - adults and children.
Did I mention that "Elvis" was once 'in the building'? As was "Elton John", "Roy Orbison"and "Stompin' Tom". "Our shows are always sold out. Performers have commented to me that they love performing here," says Catherine who does double duty on the Board and the Social Committee. In addition to booking Las Vegas-style Celebrity Review Shows, the Social Committee organizes comedy shows, Canada Day celebrations, Caribbean- themed parties, big band shows, resident art shows, and of course, the New Year's Eve gala.
The Palace Pier community's amazing level of involvement is not only a testament to the residents but much of the credit goes to The Palace Pier's Board of Directors: Peter Leon, President; Al Pace, Vice President; Thelma Beam, Secretary; Steve Currie, Treasurer and Catherine D'Urzo, Director.
"We always look for what's best for the building and our residents,'' says Peter who adds that although they strive for consensus at board meetings, opinions vary of course, yet board members, "respect and value each other's positions. It's a very good board."
Thelma says that the Board owes a great deal to their 'special advisors': the lawyers, engineers, designers, and other subject-matter-experts who live at The Palace Pier and gladly share their expert advice and knowledge with the Board.
Of the Board's communication strategy, Thelma says, "We try to keep people informed and entertained". In addition to their newsletter, which won CCI's Condo Newsletter of the Year for 2018, the Board makes good use of email blasts, website, resident web portal, and digital notice boards. The Board also distributes occasional surveys, which help them gauge residents' opinions on specific issues. Regular Town Halls keep the residents informed on current issues in the building.
Despite having a large in-house staff of thirty-six and about a dozen contracted cleaning and office staff, there is very little staff turn over at The Palace Pier. Many employees, like Grant, one of the Concierges, have been with the corporation from the day the doors opened.
Typical of any forty-year old building, especially one whose southern lake face is constantly scorched by the sun, The Palace Pier's facade began showing its age due to UV damage. So, in 2014, The Palace Pier's board embarked on a threeyear, multi-million dollar Building Envelope Project to repair the damage, clad and paint the entire building.
The Building Envelope Project is just one of the major projects that have been completed. Others include:
- Installation of motion detectors in the parking garage
- Conversion to LEDs in all the hallways and common elements, resulting in a 30% reduction in The Palace Pier's energy costs.
"There's still work left to be done", says Peter.
"We also anticipate that the new fan coil units people are installing in their units, and that we (the Board) are installing in the common areas, will also lead to more energy savings. Our next initiative will be to get people to convert their in-suite lighting to LED where possible," says Thelma.
Canadian actor, author, producer, and activist Michael J. Fox once said, "Family is not an important thing, it's everything." To the residents of The Palace Pier there is indeed nothing more important than their Palace Pier 'family'. As Catherine says, "I feel fortunate to be raising my son here."