Drake One Fifty Lunch + Learn: Brad Keast

Posted by Jen McNeely, March 08, 2016

Think your kitchen reno was stressful? Brad Keast, Vice President of Development at Osmington Inc., has the task of overseeing the redevelopment of Union Station. “I see it as the most important project in Canada right now,” he says while skimming the appetizers. For a man who has to answer to many people (200,000 commuters move through the doors of Union Station daily), he doesn't exhibit much stress. His demeanour is calm, thoughtful, and sincere. We order lunch.

Brad Keast Drake One Fifty Lunch and Learn with Jen McNeely

While Union Station has always been Canada's busiest transportation hub, Brad wants it to be much more than that: “We want it to be a destination.” His responsibility of filling 160,000 square feet of retail space (Drake General Store has already moved in) is not just about supply and demand; he's also determined to reinvent the 100-year-old space. It has to be safe, practical, and user-friendly, with the expectation that it will also be innovative, attractive, and inspiring.

Brad Keast Drake One Fifty Lunch and Learn with Jen McNeely

Before taking a bite into my kale salad, I confide in Brad that I had visited the station prior to our lunch. Scaffolding still blocks the enormous arch windows, and giant arrows are posted on drywall, steering passengers through a disorienting maze before they reach their platform; however, amidst the mess that change brings, there is a feeling of excitement of what is yet to come. I look around and try to imagine what Brad sees; I watch people drag suitcases, some faster than others, and I wonder where everyone is going. I take a moment to do a full 360, trying to understand his vision, but even he admits that the vision is constantly evolving. “If your vision is achievable, it's not big enough.”

Brad Keast Drake One Fifty Lunch and Learn with Jen McNeely

With growth expected to climb to 130 million passengers in 2021, the question becomes not "How do we do this?" but "Where do we begin?" To help get things started, Osmington brought in the big out-of-the-box thinkers from Idea Couture to identify the user groups at Union: What makes the daily commuter different from the Blue Jay fan? How do tourists use the space compared to the Beyoncé devotees heading to the ACC? But Idea Couture didn't just look in; they looked everywhere. They wanted to know what's going on in the world right now in health, technology, finance, culture and gaming. “It's a lengthy process, which it should be. The goal is to get to the civic piece.” He seems assured that they'll get there.

Lunch and Learn with Brad Keast on Union Station

Trying to hone the vision is a daunting project, but it’s one that Brad is passionate about: “I've never had a project before that I'm so passionate about in my own backyard. It if gets screwed up, I'll have to answer to my neighbours."(His condo is a five-minute walk from Front and York Street.) He breaks for a bite of his Blackened Bream and continues, “We have a duty to build something special. If it feels like a mall or the P.A.T.H. then we've failed.” He's so invested that in the evening – after a glass of bourbon – he'll often take a pencil to paper, sheet after sheet, redesigning the space on his living room floor into the wee hours.

Brad Keast Drake One Fifty Lunch and Learn with Jen McNeely

Over lunch, our conversation drifted from Toronto's thriving music and art scene (he's a board member at MOCCA) to discussing the fascinating history of our national railway. “The history is really interesting when you think about who has gone through this space. How many people went through it on their way to war? How many immigrants first set foot here as their new home?”

Brad Keast Drake One Fifty Lunch and Learn with Jen McNeely

Before getting the bill, Brad gives me a history lesson in downtown Toronto: “From shovel in the ground, it took four years to get tracks running from North Bay to the Pacific Ocean.” Which is about the same amount of time that he has already put into this project. Unfortunately, in 2016, there's a little more red tape: “I don't think the CN Tower had a building permit,” Brad says with a smile.

Imagine that.

*All photos by Solana Cain

Posted in: People

Tags: drake one fifty  guest editor  jen mcneely  lunch and learn  our city  our people  toronto