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Council approves plan to replace St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts
Jan. 30, 2020
Francine Kopun

A proposal to tear down the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts sailed through council on Wednesday without amendments or debate, paving the way for a redevelopment of the site.

The St. Lawrence Centre, on Front St. E. opposite Berczy Park requires an estimated $42 million in repairs just to bring it up to current municipal code. TO Live, the agency that oversees publicly owned theatres in the city, had asked instead for permission to tear down the complex and rebuild.

It got that approval from city council on Wednesday, without any opposition.

City staff have been instructed to start consulting with key stakeholders in the cultural community and in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood to help develop a building plan that “reimagines the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts as a new cultural and civic hub.”

A cost estimate is to be prepared after the consultations, but in a submission to a city committee, TO Live proposed a $200 million investment, with $42 million coming from the city that would otherwise have been spent on repairs, $100 million in as-yet-unsecured city, provincial and federal money, and $38 million to $58 million raised by the newly created fundraising arm of TO Live.

The new building will be “a new reimagined centre as a state-of-the-art cultural and civic hub for the city’s creative communities and the community at large, in particular not-for-profit performing arts organizations, centred on its historic role as a landmark centre for economic and cultural activities.”

“The decision at City Council today is the beginning of a valuable and exciting process for the whole community; including the STLC neighbours, our current and potential future tenants, and the City at large. TO Live will now begin the conversations with all stakeholders to discuss the vision and desires of constituents which will ultimately build the foundation of a successful project,” said Clyde Wagner, president and CEO of TO Live.

Not everyone agrees. Len Racioppo, board chair at Factory Theatre and a former board member of Canadian Stage, says his organization has been trying to get city hall’s help updating their venue, located on Bathurst St. He doesn’t understand why the city is willing to invest what is likely to be a lot of money to knock down a theatre building and replace it with something newer and more-up-to-date, but still with large theatres.

These days, smaller theatres are more in use than larger ones, said Racioppo.

“I just don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to be rebuilding a structure that will probably not be used any more than the current one,” he said.

City council also:

“We’ve been timid about things in the past that we knew in our heart of hearts that we needed,” said Mayor John Tory, speaking to the issue at council. “We need more big attractions in the city.”

Amendments to that motion included proposals to reach out to schools and private owners of ravine properties to engage them in the task of protecting the ravines from further degradation.

The near-unanimous vote came the morning after a Metrolinx public meeting where residents of Leslieville and nearby streets objected to plans to build a section in an elevated railway through the neighbourhoods.

Residents said they’re worried elevating the section, rather than burying it as the city’s relief plan envisioned, could mean the loss of Jimmie Simpson park and recreation centre as well as unbearable noise, with Ontario Line trains every 90 seconds.

“Don’t bury the neighbourhood, bury the Ontario Line,” Fletcher (Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth) told council.