3 min

Artists win in development deal

The City of Toronto has struck a deal with developers to protect and develop space for artists in the Queen St W area known as the Triangle, a neighbourhood with a flourishing queer scene.

“It’s exciting because for the first time the city will be protecting artists from being driven out of an artistic hub,” says city councillor Adam Giambrone, whose ward includes the Triangle.

Artists and residents had feared that condo development would drive them out of the neighbourhood. The area — bordered by Dufferin St on the west, Dovercourt on the east, Queen St W on the north and the railway tracks on the south — has become a cultural hotspot. There are a growing number of gay-owned or gay-friendly performing spaces, art galleries and restaurants in the area.

The deal, announced on Oct 30, will require developer Landmark Development to sell 56,000 square feet of its 150 Sudbury St condo project to Toronto Artscape at a deep discount for artist live/work studios, of which approximately 52 units will be priced for low-income artists. Artscape is a nonprofit organization working to create and maintain space for artists.

“It’s a watershed moment in Toronto development,” says Tim Jones, the chief executive officer of Artscape. “It’s the first time in a condo development we’ve managed to build in a significant number of artist live/work spaces. What we’ve done is create a model that allows us to cut a deal. If we can do it in this location it suggests we can do it in other locations.”

Landmark also agreed to contribute $250,000 toward the cost of relocating Toronto Public Health offices out of the Carnegie Library building and $1 million toward the restoration and conversion of the library building into a theatre and arts centre. The city will fund the rest of the conversion.

The city also struck a deal with Medallion Corporation over its development at 45 Lisgar St to provide, for free, 10,000 square feet for new Public Health offices at 1115 Queen St W.

Even those who led the community opposition to the developments are celebrating the deal. Gladstone Hotel president Christina Zeidler says the deal is great news for artists.

“It’s an excellent deal for the neighbourhood,” she says. “It’s the best possible thing that could have happened to us.”

Zeidler says she is concerned that the influx of condo residents might harm the queer culture that has started to take hold in the area but she says she and other queer residents and establishments — including The Beaver café, co-owned by artist and queer party promoter Will Munro — are staying.

“I’m not going anywhere, the other owners aren’t going anywhere,” says Zeidler. “The Beaver is here. It’s about making sure that the condos become more than they were intended to be. We have to make sure the people learn to care about the area. My Pollyanna dream is to make sure they do.”

While Zeidler is happy about this deal she says the city badly fumbled earlier deals struck with two other developers putting up condos in the Triangle. She says that had the city refused to negotiate earlier with Verdiroc and the Bohemian Embassy it could have struck deals as noteworthy as those with Landmark and Medallion.

The new deal comes shortly before a hearing was scheduled in Ontario Divisional Court on a ruling of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) that had permitted the developers’ original plans to go ahead. The OMB — the provincial body that acts as the final appeal body for development decisions in the province — had approved plans by Landmark and Medallion, as well as those of two other developers, virtually unchanged. The city appealed the decision only to have the OMB reconfirm its decision. The city then went to Divisional Court for a review of the decision.

Before that decision was made the city reached a deal with the developer of Bohemian Embassy Condos to contribute $500,000 to community arts projects and with developer Verdiroc to provide 190 affordable housing units, funded through the city, including 28 artist live/work studios at affordable rents and six artist studios, which will be sold to the city at reduced rates.

Landmark and Medallion decided not to strike a deal at that point and the Divisional Court, in a scathing ruling against the OMB, agreed to hear the city’s appeal. The deal with Landmark and Medallion was struck before that appeal went ahead. Had the court ruled in favour of the city, however, the OMB would only have had to review its decision again.