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Church St gets another bank

But BIA head is pessimistic about future

The Bank of Monttreal (BMO) will be opening a new branch on Church St this summer.

The branch will open at 500 Church St on the northwest corner with Alexander St, a space most recently filled by clothier American Apparel, by late June.

“This is a market we haven’t been in before,” says Alexandra Dousmanis-Curtis, the senior vice-president of BMO’s Toronto division. “We were thrilled when this opportunity came up. We first heard about it at the start of 2007 and we were really excited.”

Dousmanis-Curtis says the building needs to be renovated before the opening.

“We need a vault, number one,” she says. “We want your money to be safe. Then there’s the customer area and the service wickets. We’ve got approximately 3,400 square feet. It’s a lot of work.”

But Dousmanis-Curtis says the most important task is finding the staff.

“This is a branch where community development is very important to me,” she says. “We’re looking for a manager who can not only run the bank but who knows the community. The person has to be a leader but they also have to be involved in the community.”

Sam Ghazarian, the chair of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA), says the bank should fit in well.

“I think the Bank of Montreal will be a good mix in the neighbourhood,” he says. “They should be a stable owner. It’s a big space with expensive rent so we want a stable tenant not businesses that keep moving in and out.”

Ghazarian says that he’s less optimistic about filling some of the other empty commercial spaces along Church St.

“The rents are very high,” he says. “We don’t have much of a lunch business and we don’t have much of a retail business. Retail businesses have failed. With the rents it’s become harder to put together a business plan that will allow you to run a business.”

Several spaces along the strip remain empty or soon will be. The site of the former Enigma Tranquility Lounge at 471 Church St is still unrented. Priape, which is moving in April to 501 Church from its current space at 465 Church hasn’t found a replacement tenant.

“They have another year on their lease and they’re trying to find someone to sublet,” says Dean Odorico, the general manager of Woody’s bar, which sublets 465 Church to Priape. “They were the best tenant and we’re sorry to see them go. We hope to find another good tenant.”

The space under Woody’s will also gain a new tenant in April when Flatirons moves into the space at 467 Church from its current location at 95 Maitland St.

Loblaws’ development of Maple Leaf Gardens also appears to be on hold. In November, Loblaws’ senior director of engineering and construction told Xtra the project could be delayed at least six months.

“We haven’t really decided with the new management what the new vision for Maple Leaf Gardens will be,” said Onofrio Marcello. “We’ve had some problems with our distribution network which we had to fix first. To stick a flag on Maple Leaf Gardens and say, ‘Here we are,’ when we’re going through these changes would be strange.”

Because the Gardens were designated as a heritage building, any changes Loblaws wants to make to its original plan would require new approvals from the city.

Toronto city council approved Loblaws’ original application to convert the building in 2004.