Toronto Media Arts Centre

Toronto Media Arts Centre

Moving forward with our claim against the City

As our community is painfully aware, our fight to protect the cultural benefit at 36 Lisgar and secure a permanent home for media arts in Toronto has dragged on for years. All we have asked is for Urbancorp to deliver on its contractual obligations to us – nothing more, nothing less. The City has always had the ability to compel them to do so, but has not.

A brief background

In May 2015, Urbancorp refused to allow us to close on the property because it had not finished work.

As stewards of public funding, as small non-profits with long histories planning our future as part of this collaborative organization, we could not simply shrug our shoulders and walk away.

Without the City as an advocate, we had no choice but to protect ourselves by filing a claim against Urbancorp and the City.

In June of that year – despite our pending litigation – the City invited the community to a consultation to determine who should operate the space instead of TMAC. Through no fault of ours, the space was to be handed over to a different group after years of work designing the space, and close to $1 million of public funding secured by TMAC to build and operate it.

The message from the community at that consultation – attended by 200+ – sent a clear message to the City: We want TMAC in its space.

Finally, in October 2015, the City agreed to negotiate a settlement with TMAC and sat down at the table with us.

Two years of negotiations

Through two years of negotiations, we have been driven by the support and conviction of local residents, artists, our members and funders, that this space is essential to the future of media arts in Toronto. It’s been hard work. Many hundreds of volunteer hours by our board and members of our nonprofit organizations have been invested in righting our alliance with the City and protecting the community benefit at 36 Lisgar.

We’ve been very optimistic that a resolution could be reached – despite the complexity introduced by Urbancorp’s filing for bankruptcy protection in April 2016 – because our conversations with the City have been consistently positive and productive. Unfortunately, the negotiations have not resulted in a settlement.

The City’s official position has not changed. From a legal perspective, it does not recognize TMAC’s right to purchase the space. From a policy perspective, it does not support TMAC’s efforts to find a permanent home for Toronto’s media arts community. This is, of course, a deeply disappointing situation given all of the time and effort put into the negotiation process by all parties. But we see no alternative to proceeding with our claim against the City of Toronto.

We’ll be in touch about what you can do to support TMAC very soon. In the meantime, sign this petition to support 401 Richmond as it faces a property tax increase that could leave hundreds of artists, arts nonprofits and civic orgs without a home.

AGCO update & Ward 18 community event

June 19, 2017

Our license application – and news of progress towards occupying the arts hub – has been met with excitement by the local community at 36 Lisgar, 150 Sudbury, 68 Abell and surrounding residences! However, we’ve heard a concern about the proposed outdoor patio adjacent to Lisgar Park and our cafe, and will be modifying our application accordingly. Our goal is to be good neighbors and bring new opportunities for the community to freely and safely engage with arts right in their neighborhood, so we’re sensitive to the needs of folks who live nearby.

Drop us a line if you have any questions about the licensing process!

Ward 18 Talks: Artist and Cultural Spaces

Join us on Thursday, June 22 at The Drake Commissary for a panel hosted by our ward councillor Ana Bailão on the topic of creating and retaining new arts spaces across the City.

  • What: Panel and Q&A with City Planning and arts organization staff
  • Date & Time: Thur, June 22 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Venue: Drake Commissary at 128 Sterling Road (If you use a wheelchair or other assistive device, ring the doorbell at the main entrance and someone will come get you to bring you to the accessible entrance. Washroom on the main floor is accessible.)
We are very interested in learning how the City plans to ensure local communities’ and arts groups’ needs – not just those of profit-driven developers – are met through Section 37 deals and other City-facilitated cultural partnerships in the future.

Read more about the event and RSVP.

Spring 2017 update

May 15, 2017

We are still at it! TMAC is making (slow, but sure) progress toward a settlement that will work for all parties to our lawsuit, which now includes the trustee for Urbancorp’s bankruptcy.

We’ve spoken to many neighborhood residents and condo unit owners (including folks at 45 Lisgar, 36 Lisgar and 30 Abell) who are very keen on an update about the space – it’s been sitting empty for two years, and they were promised a public arts centre. We share their frustration about the slow progress, and wish we were at liberty to share more details.

Tours

We’ve been provided ongoing access to the space to give tours to donors, funders, board members and community stakeholders. It’s very exciting to be in the space talking about our programming and operational plans, but sad to see it sitting empty. We’re ready to activate it now!

Liquor License

Our liquor license application has been open for a relatively long time – 3 years – due to delays affecting occupancy, so a placard has gone up in the window again. It was also displayed in 2015 to solicit community input.

You can view the original application (director information has been kept up-to-date with the AGCO, of course) as well as floor plans that show where alcohol will be allowed to be sold and consumed.

TMAC is designed to be a space that engages the public with the art created and exhibited here. Part of the way we will support the sustainability of the centre is through public licensed events and a café. Rather than seeking special occasion permits for every gallery opening, film screening, fundraiser or other public event, a license allows us to offer consistent public programming at a lower cost to TMAC, and generate revenues that go back into our operating fund.

Are you a resident of the Queen West Triangle? We’re looking forward to being good neighbors! We invite feedback and conversation. Email us.


Mediation progress & Urbancorp bankruptcy

September 30, 2016

It’s been close to a year since we engaged in mediation with the City of Toronto and Urbancorp. Progress has been slowed by Urbancorp’s April 2016 filing for bankruptcy protection, which put a pause on our litigation.

However, we’ve continued to have productive conversations with City staff about a resolution since our October 2015 mediation meeting. While we can’t share any of the details of those conversations quite yet, we’re confident a settlement that secures the space for TMAC is imminent.

In 2016, we hosted dozens of joint programming events as TMAC, deepening the collaboration between our organizations and the local community. Our board and volunteers have invested thousands of hours into this project, driven by the memberships of our organizations (representing over 5,000 artists) and an actively engaged public that continues to demand we fight for dedicated media arts space in Toronto.

TMAC member organizations are bursting at the seams in our current spaces, and closing in on the end of our leases at three different spaces across the city. It is very unlikely our organizations will be able to find new affordable spaces in Toronto if we do not secure our space at 36 Lisgar.

Without space, the vital resources we provide artists working in media and new technologies will disappear. The work we do that enriches the social and cultural fabric of Toronto will be damaged. We urge the City to prove it supports the continuity of media arts nonprofits in Toronto. Keep working with us in good faith to secure the space at 36 Lisgar for the benefit of the community and the organization it was intended for.


Active 18 AGM

June 21, 2016

TMAC representatives and members attended the Active 18 AGM on June 21.

Lori Martin, Senior Cultural Affairs Officer at City of Toronto, presented a few points about TMAC. She confirmed that the parties are working together to resolve the dispute, and that we’re progressing towards sorting it out – but pointed out that the details are all confidential.

TMAC board members joined the 2017 Park Committee, as TMAC has an interest in the design and use of Lisgar Park.


Mediation date set!

September 21, 2015

The day after we filed our reply to Urbancorp and the City’s statements of defense, the City of Toronto reached out to TMAC to ask if we’d be open to mediation (rather than proceed to court with our claim). Of course, this is exactly what we’d been asking for all along–for the City to simply talk to us and make time and space for all parties to come to a positive resolution.

It took almost two months to confirm it, but we’re very excited to have nailed down a date for mediation: October 23.

We are confident the City shares our goal of conveying the community arts space to the rightful and intended operator—the Toronto Media Arts Centre—and that we’ll have great news to share with this incredibly supportive and energized community at the end of October.

Thank you again to the community, from artists to donors, funders to neighbors, for your constant support. We’re so excited to share our amazing space with you soon!


Reply to Urbancorp and City of Toronto Filed

July 22, 2015

We filed a joint reply to the City’s and Urbancorp’s statements of defence today. You can read the whole thing here:
Reply to Edge on Triangle Park and City of Toronto (PDF)

The City’s Defence

The City claims its conduct was justified as a “good faith attempt to support the City’s objective of ensuring that the Space could be successfully operated for the benefit of the Community.” Instead, the City’s actions have had the exact opposite effect, as it knew or should have known they would. If the City had simply fulfilled its obligations, TMAC would already be operating the space and providing a benefit to the community.

Instead, the Space sits vacant with no prospect of the community receiving the promised benefit from it in the foreseeable future. The City’s careless actions may delay operation of the Space for months or years if it does not take steps to begin mediation soon.

The City attempted to colour the proceedings with an attack on TMAC’s alleged “financial and operational” problems. These allegations are untrue and legally irrelevant — our right to purchase the space was not conditional on the City’s continuing faith in our abilities — and should be disregarded entirely. (We did think the City’s claim that TMAC has “no experience in operating a very large number of events” was particularly funny, having run between our orgs about 1,500 events in the last four years alone.)

Urbancorp’s Defence

Urbancorp’s claim that TMAC’s rights could be terminated by Urbancorp’s own delays is incorrect and ridiculous, contradicted by the plain words of the agreement.

Urbancorp claims that because it did not fulfill its pre-closing obligations by May 3, 2015, its obligations to complete the transaction simply disappeared. No suggestion has been made that TMAC lost its right to purchase the space through anything it did or failed to do.

Urbancorp failed to work diligently and in good faith to complete the sale, robbing TMAC of close to $800,000 in investment and four years of work, and the community of the arts and cultural space it was promised.

TMAC remains open to talking to the City about how to resolve this situation. We need Councillor Bailao to meet us halfway and take steps to begin a formal, transparent, accountable process to get everyone to a positive resolution. It’s not too late for the City to take responsibility for its actions and do right by TMAC, Toronto artists and the West Queen West community.

So, what’s next?

While we wait on the City to decide how it wants to proceed (whether to leave the space sitting empty for years or simply talk to us), TMAC continues to operate on the assumption that we will soon be able to occupy the space we designed and built. That means:

  • Operating under our collaborative governance model as a charitable organization. We don’t have our permanent home yet, but we’ll adapt as we always have to the resources we have and the challenges in front of us.
  • Planning our inaugural year programming, cinema fitout capital campaign and tenant membership drive.
  • Developing exciting collaborations and co-presentations for fall/winter 2015 with our members.

We’re very grateful to our lead donors and funders for their continued support! If you’re interested in TMAC’s future, consider making a tax-deductible donation. Stay tuned on Twitter and Facebook, join our mailing list, and we’ll keep in touch!


Response to the City’s Statement of Defense

June 29, 2015

Today, the City of Toronto responded to the statement of claim TMAC filed on May 28. It’s an interesting document filled with many assertions and much erroneous information. We are curious to see how the Court responds to the City’s claims.

On May 3, TMAC was ready, willing and able to close.

The City did not have the right to direct Urbancorp not to close with us.

It seems the City viewed the May 3 outside date as an “escape hatch” to get out of a deal it simply did not want to uphold, instead of following through with the agreements it made.

Throughout this four-year process, TMAC proved it could rise to every challenge encountered, from construction delays caused by condo flooding, to changing TMAC member priorities and resources. We held up TMAC’s end of the bargain, right up to tendering our closing deliveries on May 3.

TMAC wholeheartedly stands by our claim. We invite the City to make good on its promises and ensure this community benefit does not fail West Queen West.

A Way Forward

June 22, 2015

About a month ago, TMAC filed a statement of claim against the City of Toronto and the property developer Urbancorp. It was a sad end to a four-year collaboration that was supposed to result in a new media arts centre our neighborhood, members, and community could be proud of — a place to build the future of our organizations.

When that was taken away, we felt hopelessly backed into a corner.

But as stewards of public funding, as small non-profits with long histories planning our future as part of this collaborative organization, we could not simply shrug our shoulders and walk away.

As the weakest party in a three-way agreement, and without the City as an advocate, we had no choice but to protect ourselves by filing a claim.

We want our building back, yes! We also want West Queen West to have the community-engaged arts space it very much deserves and needs. The one Active 18, the community and all our organizations have worked so hard for.

And we want to ensure future Section 37 deals between developers, the City and non-profits do not go as terribly sideways as ours did at the last minute.

We can fix this together. We want to fix this together. Bring TMAC back to the table. Rebuild the trust and goodwill needed to ensure Toronto can continue to secure the cultural spaces that make our city both vibrant and livable.

Open Letter Re: The Cultural Space at 36 Lisgar

June 15, 2015

The state-of-the-art, purpose-built media arts facility we secured in 2011 through a Section 37 deal with condo developer Urbancorp and the City of Toronto has been ripped out from under us just as we were preparing to move in. We are frankly mystified by the lack of support and facilitation the City provided to ensure Urbancorp did not default on this deal.

Interference instead of facilitation

Despite a fully executed purchase agreement that obligated Urbancorp to build and deliver this space to TMAC, Urbancorp failed to complete work and close on the property by its deadline.

With construction nearly done, and TMAC agreeable, there was no reason for Urbancorp not to extend this date in order to give itself time to complete the work and close the transaction.

Instead, the City of Toronto directed Urbancorp to allow the date to pass, apparently because it intended to hand the facility over to real estate developer Artscape in the final hour. [Edited June 26 to add: Indeed, Artscape CEO Tim Jones confirmed in the media that Artscape became involved in our project at the City’s request weeks before the outside date of our agreement, and “recommended ‘a reset’ to city officials and the developer” — despite our rejection of Artscape’s offer of “assistance”]

The role of the City was to facilitate the agreement and ensure Urbancorp delivered on its promises to the community and TMAC. That it failed to do so demonstrates not only bad faith but also a gross breach of community trust.

In what we believe was an attempt to justify this interference and discredit TMAC, our local Councillor Ana Bailão made unreasonable and irrelevant requests — just weeks before Urbancorp’s deadline — under threat of “canceling” our agreement, which she had no power or authority to do.

We obliged, but were in effect ignored.

It is worth noting that Councillor Bailão sits on the Artscape board of directors and Alan Saskin, President of Urbancorp, is the chair of the Artscape Foundation board of directors.

Implications

Urbancorp refused to close the transaction by the deadline, despite acknowledging TMAC was ready, willing and able to close. Because of their failure:

  • The agreement was terminated on an easily amendable point intended to protect TMAC, not punish it
  • Urbancorp is relieved of its obligation to complete and deliver the TMAC space, while still enjoying its lucrative density bonus
  • We have been forced to take legal action against the City of Toronto and Urbancorp in order to protect our rights

While Urbancorp suffers no consequences for its default, and indeed enjoys the profits of its 6-story density increase, TMAC is left to answer to public and private funders who relied on the City’s purported support. Our member organizations are now scrambling to relocate. And four years of cash-strapped arts administrators’ time has been wasted designing, stewarding, and planning a future in a facility that will now be handed over to a different owner.

The disastrous consequences of the City’s bad faith and Urbancorp’s self-interest apply not only to TMAC and its member organizations, but also to all Toronto arts non-profits. Trust between provincial and federal arts funders and the City will be deeply eroded. The impact of public input on community benefit contributions is in doubt. It’s unlikely another deal like this will ever happen again if the termination of our agreement is not reversed.

A gross breach of community trust

The community made its needs clear through the original consultation process in 2011.

Now, despite TMAC’s legal interest in the property, the City of Toronto is attempting to engage the public in a new consultation process to find a different operator for the space — even before responding to our claim.

TMAC remains ready, willing and able to close. All we want is for Urbancorp to deliver on the promises it made and complete the transaction — nothing more, nothing less. The City has the authority and right to compel them to do so, and a responsibility to protect this unique Section 37 benefit in West Queen West by facilitating its stewardship by the rightful and intended owner.

— Toronto Media Arts Centre

Board of Directors

Alex Williams - Charles Street Video
Henry Faber - Gamma Space
Frank Manzo - CFMDC
Jennie Robinson Faber - Dames Making Games

Get In Touch

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Timeline

2003

TMAC formed to secure permanent affordable space for media arts non-profits

2005

TMAC commissions needs assessment for shared facility

2011

TMAC and Urbancorp sign a letter of intent

2012

Urbancorp and the City enter into Section 37 agreement (PDF) subject to a land use agreement (PDF)

2014

Urbancorp, TMAC and the City finalize Agreement of Purchase and Sale (PDF)

April 2015

City directs Urbancorp not to complete sale, despite facility being substantially completed for occupancy and subsequently registered

May 3, 2015

TMAC tenders closing deliveries; Urbancorp refuses to complete the transaction

May 28, 2015

TMAC files a statement of claim against Urbancorp and the City of Toronto for specific performance of the APS, requiring Urbancorp to complete the sale

June 2015

City provides notice of public consultation and intent to move forward with an RFP process, despite a legal action by TMAC asserting its rights to the space

A “raucous” community consultation attended by 200+ sends a message to the City: The community wants TMAC in its space.

October 2015

Mediation proceedings begin between the City of Toronto, TMAC, and Urbancorp

April 2016

Urbancorp files for bankruptcy protection

Present

Litigation is ongoing, but parties are working toward a settlement.


Coverage

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