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City rule forces TTC to fund $700Gs art
Nov., 10, 2016
By Sue-Ann Levy

Which would you choose if you had only so much money to spend on TTC capital needs, a long list of repair issues, and a fare hike looming this year:

A $700,000 piece of public art or a new modern articulated bus - one that is 18-metres (60-feet) long and accommodates double the number of passengers compared to a standard bus?

Under the city’s Percent for Public Art guidelines - created in 2010 - every private and public sector construction project must contribute at least 1% of the gross cost of that construction to public art. The theory of the program is that art should be a public benefit experienced by residents and visitors throughout the city.

Which brings me to the $700,000 piece of art for the new Leslie Barns - artwork which the TTC is obligated to fund, whether officials like it or not, under these guidelines.

According to information recently posted on the city’s website, artists are now being invited to bid to create the art for the southeast corner of Leslie St. and Lake Shore Blvd. within a landscaped greenspace of about 10 metres (32 feet) in diameter outside the site of the Leslie Barns, a state-of-the-art streetcar storage and maintenance facility that opened late last November.

The Leslie Barns cost $497 million, some $152 million more than originally budgeted in 2008. TTC officials say the increase was due to soil improvements on the site and additional underground utility and noise mitigation work requested by the city.

The value of the public art commission is $575,000.

But as city spokesman Shane Gerard says, the project management, competition and construction/installation contingency costs hikes the total cost to about $700,000 with the TTC money and a $52,427 Section 37 contribution. (The five artists to be shortlisted later this month will make $2,000 each to develop a concept proposal and budget.)

A spanking new articulated bus would cost the TTC $750,000, a regular bus $600,000.

TTC CEO Andy Byford says while he likes art as much as the next person and has to follow the city’s direction on public art, his view is clear: Namely that his top priority is to run and improve transit.

If the city can afford to create public art, that is fine, but it should “not be at the expense” of the TTC’s state-of-good-repair needs.

Byford says his problem is that he’s struggling to keep service going with streetcars being held together with duct tape, the SRT on its last legs, and a 60-year-old train signal system on the subway line from Union Station to Eglinton.

“Beautiful art is great as long as it can be afforded,” he said Thursday. “It is not the focus of my attention.”

To add insult to injury, while the TTC has handed over the $700,000, the selection process and the final decision rests with a panel of judges selected by the city’s Arts and Culture Services division, not anyone at the TTC.

Byford says the TTC was also required to pay $750,000 for site improvements around the Leslie Barns, which he said actually turned a very “dowdy” street into something nice with landscaping, public greenspace and newly renovated sidewalks.

The Leslie Barns has capacity for 100 low-floor streetcars but only 26 streetcars have arrived in the city so far due to much-publicized delays by Bombardier.