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It’s 2020. We’re still fighting for this space.

February 17, 2020

This week marks two years since we agreed to a settlement proposed by the City of Toronto and moved into our 30,000 sq. ft. purpose-built arts space at 32 Lisgar Street.

But if our successful operation of the facility and wildly busy calendar of public programming gives the impression that litigation is over, let’s be clear: The City continues to obstruct our rights by preventing us from closing the transaction and taking ownership of the building – despite our clearing every hurdle they’ve put in front of us over the last 5 years.

Until we get title, we are unable to access the full spectrum of resources we need to operate, such as government grants and partner funding. Til then, we can’t hire staff, finish the cinema or fix any of the problems Urbancorp left behind. We can’t focus all of our attention on maximizing the potential of the space for our members, neighbours and broader arts community until we are secure.

Despite these challenges, we’ve brought two jam-packed years of vibrant programming to a neighbourhood that has struggled with the displacement of artists and cultural activity since the City’s re-designation of West Queen West as a “Regeneration Zone.” Since April 2018, we’ve hosted more than 450 workshops, receptions, screenings, artist talks, concerts, community and social events plus 45 exhibitions and festivals; our members are thriving and expanding; neighbours spend their days here working and meeting, checking out art and making plans, socializing and enjoying our view of Lisgar Park.

Last year, we secured almost $3 million through partnerships to fulfill our end of a settlement we reached with the City. The agreements are contingent on our receiving title to the building – a completely reasonable condition for anyone making a significant financial commitment, as City staff agreed at a meeting in January 2019.

But once we handed over our paperwork, the City changed its mind and said it would not recognize our partnerships after all. It then instructed the third-party adjudicator to disregard our fundraising, then asked us to declare that we have no right to the space and to leave.

We filed a motion to contest the City’s strangely stubborn position in June 2019. Our cross-examination is coming up on Feb 19, 2020.

Read more background on our 5-year fight to preserve the community benefit at 32 Lisgar

The ripple effect

TMAC is clearly able to operate the building in accordance with our charitable mandate and the land-use agreement, support the delivery of the community benefit, fundraise and activate the space.

If TMAC is delivering everything the City claims it wants for the space and the neighbourhood… what’s the problem? If the City’s real concern is the benefit to the community…

  • Why did the City let Urbancorp walk away without finishing the space – despite reaping a $69.2 million density bonus?
  • Why didn’t the City hold the developer to its obligations to the community – no matter who they imagined the eventual operator would be?
  • Why did they allow 9,000 sq. ft. of our third-floor space to be severed in 2018 for Urbancorp’s bankruptcy trustee to sell on the commercial market?
  • Why has the City allowed Urbancorp to occupy part of the TMAC space as an office since 2016, an obvious contravention of the land-use agreement?

The City’s interference with the transaction in 2015 in effect relieved Urbancorp of its responsibility to finish and deliver the space. Ultimately, it is not only TMAC the City hopes to pin the costs and consequences of its actions on, but also the community that will be deprived of its promised benefit.

As we fight to have our fundraising recognized, please keep asking the City these questions. We’d love the answers, too.

Mike Williams

General Manager, Economic Development and Culture

mike.williams@toronto.ca

Councillor Ana Bailão

City of Toronto, Ward 9 Davenport

councillor_bailao@toronto.ca