Toronto wants to encourage the creation of entertainment hubs across the city and it seems the idea will get a good reception by residents in the Gerrard-Woodbine neighbourhood.
“I would say Beach Hill, or Gerrard-Woodbine, would welcome that kind of growth with open arms,” said Marietta Fox, co-chair of the Beach Hill Neighbourhood Association, in an interview.
Gerrard-Woodbine in the Upper Beaches area is one of 21 sites pinpointed by the city’s Economic Development and Culture division where current zoning would allow entertainment venues.
With entertainment venues in Toronto’s downtown core in decline, ED&C wants to pick up the slack by establishing new venues in neighbourhoods that reach from Long Branch in Etobicoke to the Scarborough Town Centre area.
Its Sept. 3 report to Economic Development and Culture Committee said that for each bricks-and-mortar venue that closes, Toronto loses an average of 10 full-time jobs, $575,000 in annual GDP contributions and $148,000 in provincial and federal taxes.
“Local artists have found it increasingly difficult to afford to remain in one of North America’s most expensive cities,” the report said.
The committee heard that venues in the downtown entertainment hub (bounded by Bathurst Street, the CPR corridor, the Don Valley Parkway and Lake Ontario) have shuttered due to rising commercial land values, rents and property taxes along with development pressures.
Entertainment in new outlying hubs could include music, live theatre, film screenings, comedy clubs, recording studios and night markets.
Demographic diversity and lower rents in these areas have generated a variety of music and “community activity made by and for locals,” the report says.
But Fox says there’s something neighbourhoods might want to look further into. It has to do with Building Code wording and fire safety.
It’s the assertion in the ED&C report that the city, Toronto Fire Services and a third-party Building Code consultant with expertise in fire protection “review requirements pertaining to temporary and flexible entertainment venues.”
This collaboration would identify specific challenges in the Code and “acceptable generic alternatives” that event organizers can use to “more easily meet Code requirements.”
‘Positive turn’ for neighbourhood
“I think if that was brought to the public’s attention there would be some concerns,” Fox said. “That certainly would be good for the public to know about. I think it needs to be looked at really clearly.”
She questions that maybe the code is prohibitory to begin with. “Maybe it has been a hurdle for business owners or prospective venue owners to open something.”
Overall, she says that if Gerrard-Woodbine becomes an entertainment hub it would be a positive turn for the neighbourhood. “We’re always looking for more ways to generate more businesses in the area.”
Her association has been doing what it can to bring an identity and vibrancy to the neighbourhood. It used to be very active in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with even its own movie theatre, Fox says.
The BHNA has worked to get new trees planted, benches installed and signage for businesses. It’s carried out street cleanups, supported the local farmers market and held community get-togethers before COVID.
The association has also become a spokesman for local business since the area is too small to have its own BIA.
“Businesses need to stay and they need to have a big say in decisions made around public art,” Fox says. “I can speak for myself and our desire to have a more vibrant neighbourhood that includes everything.”
This story has been updated with new photos and a few minor edits since it first appeared.