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Moss Park eyed as home for Toronto’s LGBT sports centre

If approved, redevelopment of entire park space would be possible

Moss Park, located in the east end of Toronto, could become home to The 519's LGBT sports centre. Credit: HG Watson

Toronto’s Moss Park is being eyed as the potential location for a proposed $100 million LGBT-inclusive sports and recreation facility.

In a report released April 15, city staff recommended that city council approve a due diligence review for redeveloping Moss Park to be home to the 519 sport and recreation project. The project is spearheaded by the 519 Church Street Community Centre.

When the plan for the new sports and recreation facility was announced in 2013, The 519’s executive director Maura Lawless told Daily Xtra that the initial plan was to build the facility in Toronto’s West Don Lands neighbourhood at the Wheel and Foundry complex, located at Eastern Avenue and St Lawrence Street.

However, Lawless now tells Daily Xtra that environmental concerns and a lack of green space became barriers to building the centre in the historic neighbourhood.

“We certainly looked at multiple sites in downtown Toronto,” Lawless says of the search. “We are very much committed to staying as close to our current communities and current catchment area.”

The search team set their sights on Moss Park, which sits at the corner of Queen Street East and Sherbourne Street. The park is already home to the John Innes Community Recreation Centre, a popular hockey arena, tennis and basketball courts and a baseball diamond.

Matthew Cutler, the director of strategic partnership initiatives at The 519, says that Moss Park represents a huge opportunity for the city to use an underutilized asset. “The community centre is in great need for renovation” he says.

If the study goes forward, opportunities for redeveloping the entire 33,999-square-metre park would be considered. The proposed indoor and outdoor facility would be between 13,935 and 18,580 square metres in size.

“It is a bit of a blank canvas,” Cutler says. “We want to build a facility that is most useful and most effective for that neighbourhood and that community.”

The plan is still in its very early stages. If city council accepts the recommendations, the due diligence review would then be reported back to council in September — if accepted at that point, more studies and community consultations will follow. Lawless hopes a design competition will be used to determine the plans for the park.

Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell says she’s excited at the prospect of having the facility at Moss Park, which borders her ward. “It means that we will have an opportunity to really leverage a whole new project for John Innes, for Moss Park arena and for the sports fields and for the sports facilities,” she says, calling it an opportunity to bring a whole new community to Moss Park and infuse it with both public and private funding.

She does not believe that there will be concern about the location change from council, noting that this is an area of the city that needs revitalization. “At the end of the day everybody wins, so I can’t imagine why anyone would have a concern about the change in venue,” McConnell adds.

When completed, the facility will become a home for some of Toronto’s LGBT sports leagues and over 6,000 LGBT athletes.

According to Cutler, the Moss Park facility has many more opportunities to accommodate these leagues. Toronto currently has more than 40 LGBT sports leagues, and that number is growing. “Outdoor turf space in particular is a huge priority,” he says. “So that made a difference for us.”

It will also provide a new swath of inclusive community programming, much of it based on community consultations.

Lawless says that they have secured one-third of the funding from a private donor, subject to all three levels of government contributing another third. The 519 will provide the rest of the funds. The facility’s budget is currently about $100 million.

Lawless says that the project will hopefully be completed by 2018.

The report will be presented to Toronto’s executive committee on April 22.