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Church-Wellesley corner in gay village up for redevelopment

Land could be valued at up to $60 million, business owners speculate

The northwest corner of Church and Wellesley streets has been the heart of Toronto‚Äôs queer community since the 1980s.

Three landlords who together own the properties at the northwest corner of Church and Wellesley have put the buildings up for sale as a block in a bid for a possible major redevelopment of the heart of Toronto’s LGBT community.

The property, listed by Colliers International, includes 66 Wellesley St E and 552–570 Church St; the buildings sit on opposite sides of a public laneway. Together, the properties may be attractive to a developer. The Beer Store location next door, at 572 Church St, has already been sold to a condo developer, although no proposal has been made public yet.

Realtor Jeremiah Shamess, who’s handling the sale, says the landlords have gotten together to “see what the market wants to look at [the property] as. It could be retail, residential, hotel, student residences. There’s a number of things that would work on the site because of its proximity to downtown.”

But Shamess acknowledges that development proposals will face obstacles because of zoning restrictions against tall buildings in the Church-Wellesley Village.

“That’s totally up to the sellers and the buyers,” he says. “There are a number of official-plan constraints on the area. The Wellesley and Church sides have official plan amendments in place; the Church Street area has a special area in place to protect the Village.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says there has been no communication about the sale to her office or the city’s planning department.

A recent deal to sell the northernmost building alone fell through over concerns that the buyer would not be able to redevelop. The landlords likely hope that by packaging their properties, a development proposal would be more attractive and they will get a higher sale price.

Although Shamess refused to say what the landlords’ asking price is, one business owner on the strip speculated they could be looking for between $50 and $60 million, based on the previous rumoured sale price of $10 million for the abandoned bid on 562–570 Church.

Most business owners on the strip say they were unaware their properties were up for sale, and those who were aware refuse to comment.

Any redevelopment likely would not come for another three to four years even if a sale goes quickly, as the developer would face a lengthy approval process and pre-sales before a project could begin. Although many affected businesses have long-term leases, all leases contain “demolition clauses” that give the landlord the right to evict on six months’ notice, sources say.

The properties for sale are home to Novack’s Pharmacy, Pizza Nova, Istanbul, four hair salons, two dry cleaners, a soon-to-open taco joint and two marijuana dispensaries. A lesbian bar, Slack’s, had been based there but was evicted in June 2013 amidst allegations of illegal behaviour. The Medical Compassion Clinic/Vapour Lounge recently relocated from 66 Wellesley. A sign on Slack’s indicates that it is available for lease.

The buildings also host five of the Church Street Murals, which were installed in 2013 and 2014 in advance of WorldPride: Meera Sethi’s Intersections, Patrick Thompson and Alexa Hatanaka’s Platinum China Anniversary, Natalie Wood’s Kiss and Tell, Lily Butter Land’s UltraChurch, 50 VIP Party People 1948–2014 and William Craddock’s Pin Button Pride.