Weston Cultural Hub – the issues, Part 2.

This is the second of a three-part series on the proposal to build a Cultural Hub in Weston.

The community of Weston

Housing:

Weston is awash in apartments. A walk along Weston Road will give an idea of how plentiful they are. Anyone currently looking to rent an apartment in Weston has a huge number to choose from. Prices are very reasonable for Toronto.

IMG_0445
The Westlaw – 1920 Weston Road. 1 Bedroom: $ 925. 2 Bedroom: $1125

 

2190 Weston Road.   1 Bedroom:    $ 880.   2 Bedroom:    $1065
2190 Weston Road.
1 Bedroom: $ 880.
2 Bedroom: $1065

At 2304 and 2336 Weston Road newly renovated apartments start at $1075 for a one-bedroom and $1250 for a two. There is lots of choice.

There are a few condominiums available near Weston Village. Just off Weston Road on Hickory Tree for example, nicely constructed apartments sell for about $180,000 for a one-bedroom and $220,00 for a two. In short there is an ample supply of (for Toronto) low-cost housing.

There is also an enclave of beautiful older homes and buildings which deserve a heritage designation but for reasons which are not clear, the political will is lacking. For more than 10 years, Weston has been waiting for Heritage District status. Why has it taken so long to achieve such an obvious designation? Who knows. Delays in granting this status are puzzling and only serve developers rather than the people living here.

Transportation:

Weston is a transportation hub. Huge numbers of people travel through or switch routes in Weston. Next month, as a result of strong citizen involvement, Weston will become a stop on the much discussed UP Express. We will have all-day (if expensive) and rapid service to downtown. Airport workers will be able to use this service at a discount and with this transit link, and especially when all-day GO Train service begins, demand for real estate in Weston (and prices) will increase accordingly. Astute home buyers, investors and developers have already been quietly buying properties here in the knowledge that Weston is turning a corner. There will be a medical centre opening this summer in the old Federal Building. The same developer is proposing condominium townhomes for the old Beer Store property and restaurants and stores are upgrading their facilities. Payday loan companies seem to be on the wane.

Planning for the future:

About 6 years ago, a University of Toronto planning course led by former Toronto Chief Planner, Paul Bedford looked at ways to revitalize communities through planning. Weston was used as an example since it was a priority neighbourhood and the UP Express was coming. During the course, some bold ideas were explored. One was to

“encourage a broader mix of residential buildings through the development of co-ops and condominium buildings to create a stronger long term commitment of apartment residents to Weston.”

Another of the ideas was to develop the podium of 33-35 King Street so that it became a campus of George Brown College. Unfortunately, that plan along with many of the ideas failed to gain traction but the exercise led to further thinking about Weston’s future involving the community in a planning ‘charette‘. Many of the ideas that came out of the charette revolved around the squalid state of apartment accommodation along with how the new Weston GO and UP Express station would fit into the community.

A look into the cavernous space of 35 King Street.
A view of the cavernous and under-used podium at 35 King Street.

For quite some time, the City of Toronto Planning Department has been in discussion with developers, land owners, the Toronto Parking Authority and Artscape in the hopes that some form of community centre / cultural hub could be built on the old Farmers Market site while incorporating the Farmers Market, allowing accommodation for artists and space for community groups.

Proposed Development

The tower.
The proposed 30-storey rental apartment that will form part of the Cultural Hub.

A proposal, recently approved in principle by the City of Toronto is to build 26 subsidized live-work artist accommodations around the podium. The 8600 square foot interior will be converted to community group space leased out on a break-even basis and the Farmers Market will stay but move closer to the tracks. Read more here.

The money for this will come from:

  • City of Toronto: waiving city fees and charges, selling the parking lot to a developer
  • Artscape: $2 million through fundraising and a mortgage
  • A developer, Rockport will set up a $2 million endowment in exchange for building a 30-storey 350-unit apartment building on the current Farmers Market site.
  • federal-provincial Investment in Affordable Housing program

Total cost: $10.5 million – with no direct impact on City of Toronto budgets.

It is not known what contribution the owners of the podium at 35 King Street will bring to the table.

Tomorrow: A direct comparison of Artscape’s Wychwood Barns and Weston Cultural Hub projects.

 

Weston Cultural Hub – the issues, Part 1.

This is the first of a three-part series on the proposal to build a cultural Hub in Weston.

The idea of an artistic community sparking gentrification is an old one, well documented in many cities. The idea is that artists move into a run-down community, attracted by low rents. They enrich the area causing young professionals to move in, attracted by the cool vibe. Demand boosts property values and the area revives and gentrifies. Unfortunately, the artists are then priced out of the area and begin the process elsewhere.

Brewing for quite a few years has been the idea of a Cultural Hub that will spark an upturn in Weston’s fortunes. Like many good ideas it has several parents but a few individuals have been key in pushing the ideas along. More on that tomorrow.

Artscape is a ‘not for profit urban development organization’. It specializes in partnerships with the City of Toronto and (sometimes) developers to convert vacant or underused properties into cultural hubs. These are places where artists can live in subsidized live / work studios and at the same time, cultural organizations can rent space at a reduced cost.

Toronto City Council recently endorsed the plans to have our very own Cultural Hub in Weston. Let’s look at an Artscape project that is seen as a model for Weston.

Wychwood Barns

Wychwood Barns is in the affluent Bracondale or Hillcrest community of Toronto. It was built in 1913 as a streetcar maintenance and storage facility. After it was abandoned and sold to the city for one dollar, plans were made for its demolition. Councillor Joe Mihevc initiated the idea of re-purposing this heritage building. As always with such ideas, the process was long, involved and controversial but eventually with funding of $19 million the new Wychwood Barns Community Centre, including a greenhouse, beach volleyball court, leash free zone for dogs, artists’ housing, offices and green space emerged in 2011.

The old Barn building that originally stored street cars.
The old Barn building that originally stored street cars.
Inside the main building.
Inside the main building. There is community rental and office space upstairs.
One of the community organizations using a subsidized space.
The Children’s Art Studio. One of the community organizations using a subsidized space.

There is a well-attended year-round farmers market every Saturday that focuses on organic and sustainable produce. A waiting list of vendors applying to operate there is needed because of demand.

Outdoor Farmers Market stalls on Saturday May 23.
Outdoor Farmers Market stalls on Saturday May 23.

As mentioned, the project cost $19 million and was funded entirely by Artscape, the Federal Government, the Provincial Government, and the City of Toronto. Not one penny of developer money was needed for the project. The area around Wychwood is quite affluent with many streets of million dollar plus homes and but a single apartment building nearby.

The lone apartment building near Wychwood Barns.
The lone apartment building past Wychwood’s grounds and across the road at 580 Christie. As a co-ownership building, it cannot be converted into condos in order to preserve the rare affordable housing it provides for the area.

The impression of Wychwood Barns is one of purposeful activity. The place is a magnet for the area and affluence seems to be the order of the day. It is well attended with hordes of upwardly mobile young professionals, many with children in strollers. Outdoor market stalls sell what you might expect but also esoterica such as fancy mushrooms, sheep yogurt and hemp drinks (all organic of course). There is an art gallery, crafts stalls and even a theatre group engaging in loud, enthusiastic rehearsals in the main barn.

Could something like this work in Weston?

Tomorrow: Artscape’s plans for a Cultural Hub in Weston.