Weston Hub financing details

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Artist’s impression of theWeston Cultural Hub, 30 storey apartment (on left) and Farmers Market stalls.

As expected, the Weston Cultural Hub cleared its final hurdle at the full meeting of Toronto City Council without amendment and the way is open for implementation. Here is another look at some of the financial juggling that makes the Hub possible:

All figures approximated for simplicity.

$2.1 million from selling the old GO parking lot

$3.3 million in Section 37 and similar contributions from the developer

0.54 million grants from the City Parks fund to Artscape

$3.9 million to Artscape from the Canada / Ontario affordable Housing Fund

$0.22 million to Artscape from waived development fees

$0.64 million from Affordable Housing to develop and adapt 6 affordable, accessible one-bedroom units in the rental building

Total: ~ $10 million.

Most of this money is to be directed towards the 26 live / work artists accommodations as well as the lease subsidy for the first 50 years. In addition, the 26 units will be exempted from property taxes.

The developer is being asked to provide a letter of credit for about $10 million that will be reduced as building progresses. If the developer is unable to get everything in place by July 2016 (permits etc. in preparation for construction) the City reserves the right to cancel the project or boost the funding.

Additional Funding:

$1.0 million from council has been set aside to pay for acquisitions costs (not the actual acquisition) and remediation of the vacant land at 14 John Street purchased to provide additional parking.

In all, the City did quite nicely as on the plus side they pulled in $2.1 million from the GO parking lot sale but are paying out $1 million for 14 John Street remediation costs plus whatever they paid for the expropriation of 14 John Street (how much did the City pay? – Does anyone know?) plus $1.1 million in grants.

We’ll keep readers posted of any developments as they are announced.


In response to a question by Dan Harris inquiring as to the whereabouts of a $1 or $1.1 million grant from Metrolinx, a quick search revealed a document from February 2012 that states,

“Metrolinx recently made a $1 million cash contribution to the City which will be used to develop and establish a Cultural/Creative Hub in Weston. The Social Development, Finance and Administration Division is directing a companion report to Executive Committee on February 13, 2012, in order to seek authority to receive the said funds.”

The million was awarded several months before the City’s TPA put the GO parking lot up for sale and may have been absorbed into general funds. If true, the million dollar contribution could mean that the City is actually making money on the Hub project.


City Council to rubber-stamp 22 John next week

The 30-storey tower, self-storage facility, and cultural hub will be considered—likely for the last time—at City Council next week. It’s extremely unlikely that council will reject the plan, which is in its final stage, as it has already been considered by the more relevant levels of city government.

Council will be allowing the city to enter into contracts with the developer and move $13-million around to fund the project. They will also be considering zoning and the official plan. The tower requires a significant rewrite of the rules, which had limited the site to 8 storeys.

In other council news, Nunziata seconded a motion to see if the backup power for the entire line can be generated by renewable power. Your humble correspondent thinks this is bonkers.

The backup power plant may be in Mount Dennis near the Kodak Lands.

Dan Harris: Walkway is important

Plans are almost in place for the new 30-storey rental tower in downtown Weston. The second-last hurdle was easily stepped over at the November 10, Etobicoke York Community (EYCC) Council meeting when councillors approved the project with some minor modifications. Interestingly, one of those modifications was to double down on the proposal by prohibiting the current owners, Rockport Group from demolishing or converting any of the units into condominiums for 20 years.

A total of 432 units will be built on the site including 26 affordable live-work units for artists.

The City Planning Department broke its own urban planning and zoning guidelines in approving the building (8 storeys is the legal height limit in that part of Weston).

Weston Village as planners projected back in 2004. Note the conspicuous lack of a 30-storey rental apartment building.
Weston Village of the future as planners projected back in 2004. Note the conspicuous lack of a 30-storey rental apartment building.

Weston resident Dan Harris has written letters to Toronto’s Planning Department, specifically to Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. (Readers may wish to check out one of her TedX talks in which she stresses the importance of providing residents information, analysis and evidence in order to generate ‘understanding’ of development proposals – around the 12 minute mark.) In his correspondence, Harris maintains that no rationale has yet been put forward that actually justifies the breaking of the current 8-storey height limit on Weston buildings. He is also frustrated by the glacial speed of and lack of meaningful responses to his objections. The only official reaction has been from the Community Planning Director for Etobicoke York, Neil Cresswell. Mr. Cresswell promised a further response would come last week but failed to deliver. Without the courtesy of rationale behind decisions, Harris maintains that it is hard to present any form of rebuttal.

While Harris is realistic about the project’s likelihood of becoming a reality, he is attempting to at least get a formalized pedestrian walkway between the east side of King and the new Hub. The City’s position appears to be that while the walkway is needed for traffic access and so will be accessible by pedestrian traffic, it will not be formalized through legislation.. Harris is concerned that if not legislated, pedestrian access may be blocked at some point in the future cutting off safe access from King to priority destinations such as the two schools in the area and even the Hub itself.

The ball is still in the Planning Department’s court. WestonWeb will alert readers to any responses.


Hub bill released: $13 million

The final tally for the Weston Cultural Hub has been released. City staff say they have a “unique funding approach”. The city, province, and developer are contributing $10.2 million toward the Hub’s building costs. A further $3 million will be set aside for operations.

In short, instead of paying fees for parks, recreation, and general community benefits, Rockport will be retaining the money for the Artscape Hub. Other money will come from the city, province, and the federal government.

When developers break density or height rules in Toronto, they pay into  “Section 37“. Rockport, in this case, is retaining the $1,600,000 they would normally have paid.

Other sources of money include

  • $4 million from from the feds and the province for affordable housing for the artists
  • $2 million from the sale of the parking lot
  • $1.2 million in forgone Parks and Rec development charges
  • $750,000 from Rockport
  • $500,000 uncollected for parks
  • A $500,000 grant from the Parks department

Some interesting facts are also in the report.

  • It looks to me like the live-work spaces and the Hub will not pay property tax or school levies.
  • Council earlier approved $1.6 million to expropriate 14 John Street, a long-vacant lot. Another $1 million is being set aside, I think, for compensation and remediation.

Artscape hopes to start with about  $3 million in the bank because the Hub will lose money. Rockport will contribute $1.25 million of this reserve, and Artscape is hoping to fundraise $1.75 million to cover the balance. After 15 years, the “City [may] be required to consider subsidizing operating costs”.

You and yours will be able to rent the Hub cheaply “for selected activities”, at a discount if you are part of a non-profit, or for the full rate for private events. Whatever you pay, you’ll be getting a deal, because revenues won’t cover costs. Artscape says the business plan shows them losing roughly $200,000 a year.


Another view of 22 John

Statler_and_Waldorf-1We’re a couple of cranks at WestonWeb. Not everyone shares our sense of gloom, however, and InsideToronto has a cheery piece on the approval of the development at 22 John.

“The time spent in these meetings demonstrates Rockport’s commitment to ensuring the needs of the community are being met and are addressed,” [David McBride, Chair fo the WVRA] said. “The proposal incorporates a 40-year old building desperately in need of appreciation and purpose and transforms it into a functional and viable part of the community. Isn’t this what we exactly look for in development? Repurposing old, under utilized structures and combining them with new architecture, breathing new life into the area?”



33 King, 22 John: a report and critique

The following is a guest post by Sophia Ilyniak, a graduate student at York University 

The Etobicoke York Community Council adopted the proposal to develop 22 John and 33 King this week. Most people who came forward to speak were in favour of the development, but many, of course, were concerned about the height of the tower.

Here, I want to focus on a few things that were brought up in presentations by those who spoke, beyond the wind-tunnel effect of the tower or its aesthetic effect on the skyline. But first, I want to explain where I’m coming from: I am a student at York University and I don’t live in Weston. I’m looking from the outside in, and so far, mostly from a policy and planning perspective. I think that the word “revitalization” is certainly another word for gentrification. “Densification” is one sure-fire way to gentrify a neighbourhood. Compensating residents with “community benefits” from the 22 John /  33 King development makes that easier.

Former MP Mike Sullivan was the only one at the meeting who brought up anything about the marginalized population of Weston. He said,

I’m in favour of the idea of creating artists live/work residences and making 33 King into a better place, but I’m not sure that a 30 storey building with 1,400 more people coming to live in Weston is exactly what the residents understand. Especially when the average income in the area of Weston Road and Laurence is only $15,000 per year.

He suggested that Rockport sign some sort of agreement to make sure local youth get jobs and/or apprenticeships for the building of the development. This was well-received by community council—they mentioned that Hammerheads, a group with local affiliations, could take this on.

Gary Alderson, Weston resident and former farmers’ market vendor, pointed out that the audience in the council chamber was certainly not a representation of who lives in Weston – “I don’t think we have any of the residents of King Street that are here that would say that they’d be against the height. What we have here is primarily land owners, wealthy land owners who live in the core of Weston which don’t seem be to against this kind of development.” [See Alderson’s comment below for clarification.] Whether or not this is the case, this statement stands as an important reminder of who has the time and energy to show up to consultations and Community Council meetings, as well as who in the neighbourhood might be called on for voluntary support.

Finally, the confusion around how the tower went from having 18 storeys to 30 was explained in a very simple way by Councillor Frances Nunziata. She said that it had been explained,

…over and over and over again. The reasons why this changed from 18 to 30 is what we’re getting – the community benefits were getting, the open space we’re getting, the cultural hub, the farmers market. That is the reason for the change in the height.

This is an agreement under ‘Section 37’ of the Ontario Planning Act. Section 37 agreements, which trade developer benefits for community concessions, have been controversial elsewhere in Toronto, as explained in the report “Trading Density for Benefits” published by the University of Toronto.

Councillor Nunziata ended her presentation with this:

I know it’s difficult for people to accept change. But if you want change, if you want to improve your community, you need to accept change. If you want to keep things the same, then don’t complain.

I think this is a problematic way of looking at an issue. Weston certainly needs investment—I cannot imagine who would not be in favour of that. But “complaining” or being critical of a development is not resisting change. If anything, those critical of a such a development are the ones most ready for real changes. Mike Sullivan hinted at a few of them: “I really hope that this ‘revitalization’ that everyone is talking about includes a community centre, includes all-day express transit, and includes enough jobs to go around.”

Investment into a neighbourhood that has suffered from structural disinvestment for a long time does not have to involve catering to big developers. If this is the first “Signature Initiative” of Weston’s “revitalization” plans, what are the rest going to look like? The problem is actually that this development is not changing much—it’s following the same formulas used downtown, which have ultimately produced the ring of increasingly concentrating poverty around it.


30-storey apartment, storage, artists’ space approved

To nobody’s great surprise, but many people’s disappointment, the Etobicoke York Community Council approved the development at 22 John last night.

The proposed development has divided the community. It will bring an Artscape-run live-work space for 26 artists, but will also bring a 30-storey rental tower, a self-storage facility, and disruption and diminishment to the farmers’ market.

Frances Nunziata tweeted:  “2nite’s EYCC mtg has brought us 1 step closer to the John St Development & Weston Hub! This is an exciting time for