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UPDATE 1-Frank Gehry to pilot remake of Toronto's theater district

* Project includes three condo towers 80 to 85 stories tall

* Massive plan in early stages, needs city approval

(Adds new quotes from Mirvish, city councillor, context)

By Russ Blinch

TORONTO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Toronto's theater district and the skyline of Canada's biggest city will be transformed by star architect Frank Gehry as a tribute to the city in which he spent his childhood under an ambitious plan unveiled on Monday.

The project, the brainchild of Canadian theater impresario and arts patron David Mirvish, involves erecting three condominium towers 80 to 85 stories tall.

"These towers can become a symbol of what Toronto can be," Mirvish told a news conference. "I'm not building condominiums. I'm building sculptures for people to live in."

At the base of the buildings will be two six-story podiums that will provide retail space, seminar rooms and lecture halls. Two new museums will be constructed, including one to house a contemporary art collection owned by the Mirvish family.

"We hope to deliver a streetscape that is evocative of old Toronto," said Gehry, 83, who was born in the city and is known for his iconic designs, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Mirvish said he sees the project, which may take many years to complete, continuing the work of his late father, Ed Mirvish, who was a driving force in Toronto's arts and theater community.

"This area was transformed 50 years ago after my father purchased the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and this project will continue the theater's future and transform the neighborhood again for the next 50 years," Mirvish said.

The project must still be approved by the city, a process that could take up to two years. The project will likely be built in stages, and the design could face a number of changes because of its huge scope and daring architectural designs.

The plan envisions tearing down Mirvish's Princess of Wales Theatre, where the hit "War Horse" is playing, and some adjacent heritage buildings to make way for the project, which could spark opposition.

Toronto is in the midst of a condominium building boom, and the Gehry project's three towers could add to a potential supply glut. Some analysts have warned a market crash may be coming because of the frenetic construction pace.

Adam Vaughan, a city council member who has been working with Mirvish on the project, told the Toronto Star the plan was a bigger than just erecting a new edifice. "This is about building a city, not building a building," he said.

(Reporting By Russ Blinch; Editing by Peter Galloway and Philip Barbara)

((russ.blinch@thomsonreuters.com)(Twitter: @rblinch)(Reuters Messaging: russ.blinch.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: CANADA TORONTO/