Toronto's building boom brings cranes, dust, and a 7 AM to 7 PM din of construction noises to the downtown core and its periphery. It also prompts the question, "Do we actually have enough people to move in to those buildings?" The answer, evidently, is yes, but more the important question is perhaps, "Do we have the facilities to make living in the core livable?"
Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy is seeking to answer this question with his proposal to repurpose the historic Waterworks building on Richmond Street West as a YMCA for the growing population in his Trinity-Spadina Ward. Ownership of the land and property, currently held by Build Toronto, will be transferred to the YMCA after a private developer has transformed the site. Cressy's proposal was discussed—and amended to permit Build Toronto to work with a charity—by the Executive Committee on September 21, and then was adopted by City Council on September 30.
The 1.3 acres of land proposed for repurposing includes the properties listed as 497, 505, and 511 Richmond Street West, and 60 Brant Street. The property lies on the south side of Richmond between Brant and Maud Streets, and faces onto St. Andrew's Playground to the south. The 505 Richmond property was set aside by the City in 1837 as the site of a proposed public market (St. Andrew's Market) while the property to the south, now St. Andrew's Playground, was set aside as recreational use which has continued to present day. The former market buildings have been designated as heritage sites for their Art Deco architecture and will be incorporated into the design of the repurposed space.
Councillor Cressy is proposing that the Richmond Street properties be converted into a 50,000 square foot YMCA and additional housing for the community. The property at 60 Brant Street has been earmarked as the new home for Eva's Phoenix, a housing, employment, and training facility for youth. Cressy's hope, as he outlined in both his e-mail newsletter The Cressy Courier, and a Toronto Star Op-Ed is "to transform dense spaces into liveable communities."
The major property on this site, the Waterworks building, was transferred to Build Toronto in 2014. Build Toronto requested that any redevelopment of the site include a YMCA or a similar facility for the community. The report included these recommendations:
- That City Council agree that existing and future section 37 and Section 45 funds from Ward 20 go towards a maximum of 2/3 of the construction cost of the facility (between $15 Million and $19 Million). The remaining 1/3 ($5 Million) would come from the YMCA. The costs are approximations at this point since the design for the YMCA is preliminary, and cost and size-reducing floor plan efficiencies are still being devised and considered.
- That City Council to direct the General Manager, Parks, Forestry and Recreation to negotiate a Community Use Agreement for the YMCA to secure affordable access to community space and recreational programs and services.
- That City Council support Build Toronto in transferring ownership of the property and land to the YMCA at no cost.
Construction of the building will hopefully begin in 2017, but the process of rezoning, community consultations, and other planning matters will ultimately dictate the time that ground will be broken.
Currently $5 Million has been "collected or secured" in Section 37 and Section 45 funds towards this project and it is expected that the numerous applications under review in the Richmond Street area of Ward 20 will generate the remainder of the ⅔ public funding for this project. These monies will be used to pay a private developer to develop the land with the expressed condition that a YMCA be incorporated into the development.
The facility would be entering this downtown community at a time of large population growth. In 2011 the resident population of the King and Spadina area was 8,645 and by 2025 that number could rise to 40,260 if all of the units currently going through the application process in the area are built. The employee population in the area is also projected to increase as trends from the late 90s to present have suggested.
The decision to have a YMCA came following a December 2013 report from IBI Group that identified a need in the neighbourhood for additional multi-purpose community space to accommodate the growing population. The report also cited the strain on current community centres to accommodate the significantly increased population of children under 5. The YMCA was suggested because of its reputation, cost avoidance with respect to ongoing operational and capital costs associated with a city-run community centre, and the YMCA's ability to fundraise 1/3 of the project cost. The YMCA's host of community programs, services and facilities also highlighted the organization as a good choice.
In conversation with Councillor Joe Cressy, he explained that Build Toronto has chosen an prospective developer and that the project is now in a stage of due diligence which will continue until the end of October. In this stage the developer will confirm that they can carry out the project which will not only include a YMCA at 505 Richmond Street lot, but also an indoor/outdoor marketplace, and residential units. Representatives from the developer, Cressy's office, the City, the YMCA, and a Community Working Group including members from the Wellington Place Neighbourhood Association and the Garment District Residents' Association, will meet to further discuss the parameters of the project. Parks, Forestry and Recreation will also, during this due diligence period, create a MOU to ensure that the site will provide necessary community access. After the period of due diligence concludes, a series of public consultations will take place to ensure that residents have their voices heard and incorporated in the construction of this multi-use site. From that point, a re-zoning application will be submitted. That's expected either by the end of this year or the early 2016.
When asked about any other projects the councillor has to make his ward more liveable for its residents, Cressy said that he is focused on community centres, child care facilities and park space. The councillor indicated that he has a couple projects in this vein that he is working on and he will release more information as they become finalized.
Now that this project has been given the green light from City Council, the planning process will kick into gear. We will keep you updated with the progress of this exciting new project.