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Ambitious Gore Park renewal Hamilton's great green hope

Alongside the new condos going into the old Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton, an entirely new Gore Park will start to emerge this summer in a roughly $7-million, three-phase project the city hopes will give Hamilton that post-Steeltown boost it's been trying to achieve for the past decade or so.

Born of a transportation study of an adjacent portion of King Street, the Gore Park revitalization process blossomed into a project of its own, the details of which were hashed out over several years of public meetings.

"This space is as old as Hamilton itself," says Le'Ann Seely, supervisor of park planning and development for the city, "and the people of Hamilton care deeply about how it is handled."

The project's first phase will include some pedestrianization from James to Catherine Street along the park's north edge, as well as along King Street on the south border, refurbishing the cenotaph, the construction of one large and several smaller memorial walls to recognize Hamilton's veterans, relocating the statue of Sir John Macdonald, and the planting of trees.

"We hope it will achieve a high-quality downtown area that is representative of the economic strength and civic pride of Hamilton," Seely says of the entire project, which includes two as yet unfunded phases. "The economics of place-making suggest that public realm improvements that are pedestrian-focused are good for the economics of a city. Pedestrianization connects people with a place, making the place feel important and a destination, versus a space they rushed past on their way somewhere else. People therefore become more aware of a space and what is in it, and near it, which is good for business."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Le'Ann Seely

Canderel to build another massive Yonge Street tower

Get ready for another massive tower on Yonge Street.

Just a few blocks north of the 78-storey Aura, set to be the tallest residential tower in the country, Aura developer Canderel is planning a 66-storey condo at Grenville.

"It's given that the neighbourhood of Yonge Street is going to have a lot of density," says Canderel VP Riz Dhanji.

Just as they made waves with Aura's height, Dhanji says they're planning to install the country's – and possibly the hemisphere's – first rooftop infinity pool, to be called Aqua 66, for residents only.

And in another illustration of the fruits of councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Adam Vaughan, about 10 per cent of the units will be family-friendly three-bedroom designs.

The buildings, which include a Royal Bank, Hoops, and the former offices of Xtra, will be demolished sometime next year, according to Dhanji.

The interior designer will be Buridifilek, who with their work for Pink Tartan and Joe Fresh (both Mimram-family projects), and Holt Renfrew and Brown Thomas in Dublin (both Weston family properties), seem to be in with at least a certain segment of Toronto's elite, which may bode well for sales, which start at half a million and go up precipitously from there, right up to the penthouses, which will occupy the top five floors.

Another feature of note will be the podium floors – the first eight floors – which will include live-work spaces.

Architects are Graziani and Corrazza, and the project is expected to be completed in 2017.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Riz Dhanji

Hamilton's Royal Connaught finally gets some love

Like the Lafayette in Buffalo and Detroit's Book Cadillac, Hamilton's Royal Connaught Hotel didn't deserve the history it got.

Opened in 1916, built by Harry Frost (of Frost Fence fame), it had some glamorous years. The NHL governors would have their meetings there during its first decade. It was the focus of Hamilton's high life for years, but by the 1980s, it was in serious decline, and in 1992, it faced its first foreclosure. By the 1990s, it was a has-been, lovely on the outside, seriously shabby on the inside. By 2004, it was closed, and sat vacant for 10 years, withstanding an absurd proposal from developer Harry Stinson for a 100-storey Connaught Tower in 2008 and then, nothing.

Until now.

A coalition of Hamilton developers, including Ted Valeri of Valery Homes and Rudi Spallacci of the Spallacci Group, bought the old girl about two-and-a-half years ago and will be turning it into condos, part of a five-phase project that may add as many as three extra towers in the adjacent parking lot for a possible total of 700 condo units in what many hope will be a revitalized downtown core.

The first two phases will focus on the hotel itself, where 232 units will be added to the renovated lobby, which opens as a sales centre June 7.

"As we were working, we found the original floor that was placed there back in the 20s or 30s," Valeri says, "and we managed to find somebody, really good tile setters, to bring the stone back to its grandeur. There were some places we had to fill in with new granite, but most of the floor is original. Same thing with the plaster mouldings around the columns."

There will be 10,000 feet of retail in the original building, with ground-floor retail also planned for the new towers.

If sales go well, the group hopes to have its first residents move in sometime during the hotel's centenary in 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ted Valeri, Rudi Spallacci

Massive reconstruction of U of T law school underway

Though regularly ranked first in the country, the University of Toronto's law school has long suffered from a lack of physical identity. It's tough to find, for one, and when you do, it just seems a scattering of buildings with nothing tying them together other than the impressive earnings of its graduates.

Hariri Pontarini hopes to do something about that.

Working with several extreme restrictions, including space and money (odd, that, given the aforementioned alumni earnings), Michael Boxer, the lead architect, has pulled together an agglomeration he hopes will fix the problem, and give the school a more coherent relationship to its surroundings, both academic and urban.

"We started with this idea of pillars," Boxer says, "reinterpreting the columns from Flavelle House. The portico and those pillars in red brick are one of the first things you see as you're driving south, and we set the new building behind it with a sheer glass, mirror-like surface to reflect the old building and the sky, and have the syntax of that orderly symmetrical column grid. The portico columns are like the front teeth, the foremost columns, and there's the offspring, smaller derivatives that then spin through the site at more of a filigree. Off of Philosophers Walk you see the same thing, there's an echoed portico with four columns. The materiality is trying to echo the traditional masonry construction.

"There's a crispness to the glass and detailing, but at the same time there's robust stone pillars and textured masonry base that's going to be very heavy and of the earth."

Seen from above, the buildings seem a little smushed together, but Boxer says that it won't affect students and others who use the buildings.

"The massing might appear challenging at different levels," he says, "but internally, and the way you'll experience the building at grade, they should work well together."

Hariri Pontarini has been working on its designs since 2000, a reflection of the complexity of the project, which includes dismantling much of a late 1980s, early 1990s addition, which itself enveloped an expansion from the 1950s, much of which is being uncovered after decades during the process.

"It's almost like a snake that eats a frog," Boxer says, referring to the newly discovered relationship between the two previous projects.

"What we're doing is remodelling the 1980s addition for the expansion, and so there's three layers of renovation that's going on there. As they undo parts of the 1980s addition, they're discovering the 1950s remnants that are inside the 1980s body. The 1980s structure kind of piggy-backed and grabbed as much of the 1950s structure as it could."

One of the main aspects of the brief from the school was to create a social centre for the school.

"The school as it stood was a bit in disparate pieces," Boxer says. "A part of the faculty is located in Falconer, across the courtyard, and the community wasn't being fostered, so we developed this idea of a forum, the central heart of the scheme right next to Flavelle House. The main entrance of Flavelle leads under the house to a large central space to a skylight, and from there, it springs off to a new crescent wing, to take advantage of the site, to hug Queen's Park Crescent, we're as close to the property line as we're allowed to be there."

Though there have been some slow-downs related to what Boxer refers to as the "surgical" demolition required, he expects the job to be finished within two years.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Michael Boxer

Iconic strip club Jilly's sold to mid-rise developer Streetcar

We may have to concede the whole stripper thing to Montreal.

After yesterday morning's announcement that Jillys will be closing, and that Streetcar Developments will be doing something new and exciting with the old Broadview Hotel, there's really no point in going on.

The hotel was originally built as an office building in 1893 by Archibald Dingman, who struck oil in Turner Valley, just south of Calgary, kicking off Alberta's first oil boom on May 14, 1914. (The second, and current, boom started in 1948 at Leduc.) Dingman later owned a piece of the Scarboro Electric Railway.

Les Mallins, the man who bought the building, is president of Streetcar Developments, the first developer to fully invest in the city's mid-rise condo market. He's not been a run-of-the-mill developer thus far – he started out on his own, for one, renovating a house into apartments and leveraging up from there – and so when he says he wants to return the building to its previous splendour, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

"Significant investments will be required to repair the structural issues," Mallins says, "and that's just the damages we can see. We're excited to be owners of this landmark real estate and are committed to restoring the building to a place that everyone in the area is proud of."

Oddly, he's also saying the old Broadview will not be turned into condos.

The building's long been seen as an east-end equivalent to the Drake and the Gladstone, so though Mallins isn't saying, that's one possibility. Streetcar's been doing pretty well recently, too, so he could also be turning it back into offices, headquarters from his already Riverside-based company.

But don't expect anything quick. The National Post is reporting that the sale was hastened by the savvy tenants at Jillys, who just took down a couple of load-bearing walls, putting the building's structural integrity in harm's immediate way.

They'll be evicted, according to a statement from Streetcar, along with the residents. The Gladstone and Drake also had residents when they closed, with the Gladstone acquitting itself especially well in the way they handled their relocation.

According to Mallins, "We've been working closely with the operators throughout the process and will work with the people staying there to support in the transition to ensure it's done with respect and care."

Streetcar will close on the property in 30 days, and has given Jillys 60 days to vacate. No word on whether they're looking for new digs. I hear Montreal real estate's still pretty cheap.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Les Mallins

Condo core to get some three-bedroom options

It looks like by 2015, a family may finally be able to live in a Bay Street condo.

The Cresford tower, compellingly named 1000 Bay, that's going up where Bistro 990 used to be is prominently advertising the availability of three-bedroom units in a market where such things are still rarities.

The work of councillors Adam Vaughan and Kristyn Wong-Tam, both of whom are strong proponents of what they call family-sized condos, has played a large role in this, though one would hope that so, too, has some recognition on the part of developers that occasionally people with children wwant to live downtown for under $1 million.

You wouldn't have thought it would take them quite so long to catch on.

The 32-storey tower, designed by glass-tower-cobbler Peter Clewes, will have 458 units, of which 33, according to Clewes' firm Architects Alliance, will be three-bedroom.

The site, which also included a parking lot bordering on the University of St. Michael's College at U of T, is in the centre of the condo core and across the street from several of the 1980s condos, including 1001 Bay, that minted Bay Street as the city's premier condo strip.

Writer: Bert Archer


Laptoppers slowly realize there's a huge new wifi cafe in town

There's a big, new WiFi-friendly cafe in town.

In a city with a less ambivalent relationship with its cafe patrons this would not be news.

In cafe cities, from Paris to Astana, from Sofia to Calcutta, there is an understanding that a significant part of a cafe's natural clientele are lingerers, people who read, talk, meet people, and even use a laptop in a cafe, outsourcing their own living room to the city at large, choosing to live in public, in the city, rather than holed up in private property.

Toronto didn't have cafes by any regular definition of the term until recently. It had coffee shops and doughnut shops. Perhaps as a result, the notion of lingering in public became associated with indigence, which has given cafe owners the idea that it's OK to hustle people along.

Many cafes have done this in various ways over the years, by posting notices with time limits, but offering free WiFi, but only for 30 minutes and, most recently, by covering over electrical outlets to ward off people with electrical devices, telling them they should be in an office, or at home, or anywhere other than in the cafe.

It's an odd way to treat your natural clientele.

But Stone Yu, son of the family that owns two cafe bakeries in Markham and Richmond Hill, figured it might be a good idea to be inviting, rather than censorious. Hence, the new 6,400 square foot Lucullus on Elm Street.

Downstairs, there are Chinese buns and other baked and prepared foods starting at about $1.60. There are a couple of tables up front, and an outlet or two. But it's upstairs that should gladden the hearts of residents-in-public space city-wide.

"The second floor is designed as a space to relax," Yu says. "We have free WiFi and outlets for laptops."

It sounds simple. But a cafe with ample space that does not consider people who would like to spend time there as table hogs is a rarity, making Lucullus on Elm the sort of place Future Bakery was for the pre-laptop era, before it decided not to extend to its 21st-century customers the same courtesy it once did for its analog chess-playing patrons, blocking off their one electric outlet.

Chinese bakeries have not, traditionally, been trendsetters in Toronto, but with pastry geting ever more artisinal and gluten-free, and electrical outlets being boarded up – or not installed – across the city, perhaps they should be.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Stone Yu

Notorious Allan Gardens getting a new playground

The Allan Gardens neighbourhood is known for many things, including drugs and an annual leatherman festival, but three years ago, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam decided to add a little something for another neighbourhood demographic.

"The Allan Gardens playground was not scheduled for capital improvements until 2018, and I believed that was too late," she says.

"Considering the dogs in the park had two elaborate off-leash play areas and children next to nothing, only a meagre swing set and a broken see-saw in a dull sand pit, it didn't seem fair to delay the playground investment any longer. Given the number of children and young families moving into the area, I accelerated the Allan Gardens playground renewal process by seven years. Given what I know now about the technical requirements of space and relocation, if we stayed with the original schedule, I imagine that children in the neighbourhood would not have a new playground until 2021."

The contract went to tender an unusual three times, after the budget for the update was tripled to allow for better fences, among other things. The budget stands at $1,160,400.

Wong-Tam says she has been advocating for family-sized development in the area since taking office, and this is a reaction to and preparation for that.

"This means that any development proposed in Ward 27 will have 10 per cent of their unit mix be family-sized, therefore, either three-bedroom units or two-bedrooms and larger at a minimum of 900 square feet," she says. "Given the proposed unit sizes by developers today, 900 square feet by downtown standards is large."

The playground, which will be about 2.5 times the size of the original, should be completed by September.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Kristyn Wong-Tam

Cookbook Store's gone, so 1 Yorkville better be good

The Cookbook Store is gone. After 30 years, and some last-minute noises about possibly moving, Alison Fryer and Co. closed up shop for good this month. In its place, a proposed 58-storey condo. They've not put much effort into the name – One Yorkville – but one hopes the Bazis tower, designed by Roy Vacarelli, makes good the loss.

On the surface, it appears to fit firmly into the Toronto Condo 2.0 school – still a glass tower, but with decorations, in this case, something a publicist calls "3D wallpaper."

The proposed tower would consist of 622 units in the place of the Victorian/Edwardian row houses currently ranging from 838 to 848 Yonge. Unlike 5 St. Joseph a few blocks south, Bazis is not attempting to work its new tower into the existing fabric, preferring to take an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new approach that has, over the decades, been a standard Toronto approach.

True, the Vicwardians are in no way remarkable, never mind unique, but as more thoughtful developers have shown, there's a value to maintaining familiar streetscapes, to growing rather than razing.

When asked what it was hoping to do differently in this especially condo-crowded section of town, Bazis replied, through its publicist, that they were, "Catering to anyone in the area from students to empty nesters -- those that appreciate the accessibility of the Yorkville area, transit and downtown living." As mission statements go, this is one of the most discouraging heard in years.

The Cookbook Store was a small but valuable part of the city. This large but generically conceived replacement is going to have to do some work to convince anyone it's worth what it's proposing to wipe away.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Vicki Griffiths

There may finally be a future for that sad little lot on Avenue at Webster

Anyone who's walked up or down Avenue north of Bloor over the last decade or so will have noticed a sad little vacant lot behind frost fencing on the corner of Webster, just north of the Hazelton retirement home.

It looks like it's finally got a future.

Urbancorp has just applied to build a very high-end, 14-storey condo tower there, with just 14, two-bedroom units (meaning everyone gets their own floor).

The design is by TACT, who are reluctant to comment (often not a great sign, to be frank), on what looks from the preliminary sketches like a sort of skeletonized version of the standard glass tower.

According to a report commissioned by the city from Ted Davidson Consultants, the proposal meets all the neighbourhood's development standards meaning that, barring a local uprising at the upcoming public meetings, this one's a go.

It's not the best use of the space, from an urban point of view, adding just 28 or so people to the neighbourhood. But if any part of town is going to support a floor-by-floor owned condo with gallery space for its retail level, it's this spot, just a hundred or so metres up from the Ferrari dealership.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Oren Tamir

Temporary bridges open at Dufferin

Last week, drivers got their Dufferin back.

On April 11, the temporary bridges replacing the old and hastily condemned Dufferin Bridge opened to traffic, allowing vehicles to get to and from Lake Shore Blvd. West and Exhibition Place via Dufferin once again.

These modular bridges, erected at a cost of about $3 million, will stand in for the permanent structures over the GO/Metrolinx tracks and the Gardiner, which are not expected to be completed until 2019.

"The permanent work at this site is a complex project," says Frank Clarizio, director fo capital works delivery for the city. "In addition, the elevation of Dufferin Street will be raised to allow for the extra vertical clearance required for the future electrification of the rail corridor. The schedule for the work will also depend on other major Transportation projects planned for the area."

The design of the new bridge is being worked out now, and its construction schedule set. The cost of the permanent work will be about $20 million.

The old bridge was closed to traffic on June 12, 2013, and to pedestrians on Oct. 9. The 101-year-old structure was demolished on Dec. 2.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Frank Calrizio

New Ryerson building shaping up to be a lively addition to Yonge

Ryerson's oddly named but Snohetta-designed Student Learning Centre is fast taking shape, with work just completed on the seventh of nine floors. Though calling a campus building a student learning centre is like calling a wing of a hospital the patient care centre, the SLC is obviously going to be among Yonge Street's most aesthetically distinctive façades.

Snohetta, the Norwegian firm in charge of re-imagining Times Square and rebuilding the Alexandria Library, has created a building with a sneering, upturned lip for a corner entrance, and a snowy glass skin that sets it apart from its glass-centred condo neighbours.

When finished in January, the building at 341 Yonge – on the site of the old Sam the Record Man -- will be 155,000 square feet.

"Student facing services such as academic supports - access, math, writing, test centres and English Language and Learning Success Services - will be moving into the SLC from their current locations around the university," says Ryerson public affairs rep Michael Forbes. "The DMZ and library administration will also have a presence in the new building."

When asked about the building's generic name, Forbes said, “Currently, Ryerson students do not have a dedicated space on campus. We've designed this building to create a space specifically for students to study, collaborate and create."

Writer: Bert Archer

Bloor Street Corridor kicks off

As of last week, Toronto’s got a new attraction. The Bloor Street Cultural Corridor calls attention to a strip that before now didn’t have much of an identity.

The corridor runs from Bay to Bathurst, and as corridor director and Royal Conservatory director of marketing Heather Kelly pointed out at L’espresso on Wednesday, it includes a dozen arts and culture spots for Torontonians and tourists to take in.

"This is a new type of collaboration," Councillor Michael Thompson said to the packed house, referring to the collaboration among the dozen to promote the area as a whole.

"I've travelled to 60 cities," said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward covers the eastern part of the corridor, "and I know when you visit a city, you don’t go for the skyscrapers, for the condos."

From east to west, the BSCC consists of the Japan Foundation, the Gardiner Museum, the ROM, the Bata Shoe Museum, the Royal Conservatory and Koerner Hall, the Istituto Itlaiano di Cultura, the Alliance Française, the Native Canadian Centre,  the Miles Nadal Jewishj Communtiy Centre, Trinity-St. Paul’s with its Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Toronto Consort, and the Bloor Cinema.

"By working collaboratively and cooperatively," their press release said, "the cultural organizations intend to attract more Torontonians, tourists, and attention to the Bloor Street Culture Corridor. Helping visitors connect the dots, the initiative will increase awareness of how close together and easy to access these arts and entertainment experiences really are. The partnering organizations hope to entice people to stay in the area longer and ultimately include more destinations in their visit."

There are also two hotels in the strip — the Intercontinental and the Holiday Inn — and a couple of dozen restaurants, bars and cafes. It’s not necessarily the best restaurant strip, nor the best part of town for cafes, but there is no other part of town with as much of a mix.

In addition to the brochure, which will be made available to various tourism outfits, they’ve set up a website to bring it all together.

If it achieves nothing else, the initiative reminds us that there’s plenty to do and see around Bloor and Spadina.

Writer: Bert Archer

New condo buys coffee for everyone in a 3-block radius

Developers are an odd breed. In order to succeed, they need to be able to handle the risk and stress that comes with borrowing and investing 8- and 9-figure sums, and conservative enough to ensure that every project caters to the widest possible audience. They have to be able to deal with the artistic sensibilities of architects, and the labour ethic of tradespeople. It’s a rare combination that attracts an odd mix of people, and no two are alike.

Mazyar Mortazavi, however, is less alike than most. TAS, of which he’s president and CEO, is always building on the fringes of the mainstream and finding new ways to increase the city’s density. Last week, we wrote about a new project of his, DUKE, that’s expanding the condo core into the Junction. And now, with his latest development  Kingston and Co., located at 1100 Kingston Rd, he’s buying everyone in the neighbourhood a cup of coffee.

"A key thing for us, going into a new neighbourhood, is that I see it as a guest going to a dinner party," he says. "The people who already live there are the hosts. So we spend a lot of time with our community engagement program. We start talking with the neighbourhood from the beginning of the application process, in addition to the public meetings arranged with the city. Those, to us, are pretty much the end of the process."

Mortazavi says the applications have all been approved, the meetings all conducted, and sales are about to begin, and construction’s set to start, with a view to being ready to move in late 2016 or early 2017.

In other words, there’s nothing left to get out of the residents, and the average developer might be relieved that this particularly arduous segment of the process is over. But Mortazavi seems to like it, so he’s just sent out little thank you cards with coupons for two free cups of coffee at local indie cafes (Madhüs and Savoury Grounds) to everyone who lives within a three-block radius of the future mid-rise.

"Our entire platform is based on engaging in conversation," he says. "We recognize that there's a lot of chatter, and has been for a while, around the market, developers who promise one thing and deliver something else. There are people who are worried there’s a condo bubble, others that this is just going to be a box going up in their neighbourhoods. These are conversations that are happening, and we want to be a part of that, to encourage it, and to inform people."

And also be the ones buying the coffee over which the neighbourhood continues to klatch.

It’s not the first time they’ve done something like this. When DUKE was in the pre-sales stage, TAS helped launch the Junction flea market. They also hired their designer fro the neighbourhood, and bought their furniture of rate condo from local dealers.

"It’s very much looking at the underpinnings of what makes strong communities and seeing who we can work with to strengthen that," he says.

Condominium development is by definition a cut-and-run project. Developers buy land, build buildings, sell them off, and move on. The building stays, but the developer's out of there. Mortazavi, for one, would like the memory of their time together to be a pleasant one.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Mazyar Mortazavi

City offers homeowners low-interest loans for green retrofits

It just got easier being green.
As of now, the city is offering $10 million worth of low-interest loans to single-family dwelling owners looking to retrofit their house in certain neighbourhoods around the city, but were previously dissauded by the associated costs of doing so.

"At its meeting of July 2013, Toronto City Council unanimously approved a $20-million pilot energy efficiency pilot program for the residential sector," says Rosalynd Rupert, a communications officer with the city.

"$10 million in funding is to be allocated to the Home Energy Loan Program, geared to single-family houses. HELP is designed to advance funding to consenting property owners interested in undertaking qualifying energy and water improvements with repayment via installments on the property tax bill."
It's a pilot project for the moment, available in Black Creek, Toronto Centre/Rosedale, the Junction/High Park, and South Scarborough.
"The initial pilot neighbourhoods are the same areas where Enbridge Gas is offering the Community Energy Conservation Program, which offers up to $2,000 in rebates and incentives for energy retrofits," Rupert says. "Also, in the pilot neighbourhoods, the city is collaborating with local groups such as SNAP [Black Creek] and Project Neutral [Riverdale-Junction] to jointly promote HELP to local homeowners."
According to Rupert, this is a new approach to funding for Toronto, one the City hopes it will be able to extend across the city and use for other initiatives in the future.
"Using local improvement charges for energy retrofits is new to Ontario and Canada. A similar financing program for hot water heaters is being rolled out in Halifax," Rupert says.

"The origin of this type of financing traces to Berkeley, California, in 2008. Various US jurisdictions have launched... programs that function similarly to HELP. How they work is municipalities/regional governments issue special bonds to raise funds for a municipal loan program that could cover renewable energy, water conservation or energy efficiency measures. The loans, including interest, are recovered via the property tax bill."
Maybe the best part of the whole deal is that there is no credit check to qualify for the loans. As long as you’re in the right neighbourhood, and your property taxes are up to date (and you get your mortgage-holder’s approval), you’re in. Interest rates are 2.5 per cent for five years, up to 4.25 per cent for 15 year terms.

Application forms are available at the city's website.
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Rosalynd Rupert
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