Two of Forest Hill’s long-standing clubs were almost forced to shut their doors thanks to a change in city policy.
The Forest Hill art and bridge clubs were facing eviction from the city-owned space they had been using after a review of their leases by the city’s real estate services.
“We thought it was curtains for us,” said Mel Delija, a long-time member who currently teaches still life and landscape drawing.
The Forest Hill Art Club has occupied space in the Forest Hill Library rent-free for nearly 40 years. In the past, the club, which recently raised its annual membership fee to $140 from $65, only needed to cover basic administrative costs including insurance, phone bills and art supplies.
In May, the directors received a letter from the city stating that they would have to start paying rent if they wished to stay where they were. Even though it was below market value, the $15,000 a year the city was asking was more than the club could afford. The club was told to start packing if it couldn’t come up with the first payment in August.
“There was no way with our small membership that we would be able to make rent,” said Delija. “We would have to charge each member $400.”
The city leases spaces at well-below market prices to community organizations that wouldn’t exist otherwise. The amount charged for the space basically covers heat, hydro and water allowing the city to break even.
Luckily for the Forest Hill club, the Don Valley Art Club, which was formerly located in the Evergreen Brickworks, needed more space so the two clubs have decided to merge and operate out of the Forest Hill location.
“Both the Forest Hill Art Club and the Don Valley Art Club are vibrant, active artistic organizations that contribute much to their communities through the arts,” said city arts services manager Nadira Pattison.
The joint arrangement will allow the clubs to continue and accrue a larger membership while providing creative opportunities for residents of all ages, which will benefit the city as a whole, said Pattison.
The Forest Hill club will survive, but its members can expect major changes.
The Don Valley Art Club brings with it 200 members, compared to Forest Hill’s 45, to the 1,400 square meters space.
Delija says it will be packed.
“(In the past) we would leave the easels, wet paintings around. We didn’t need to clear the room,” Delija said, adding that schedules will need to be worked out to accommodate both groups.
And now that the Don Valley Art Club is the official leaseholder, a name change is in the works.
“I think it’s a good thing for us,” said Delija. “I’ve been a member for 20 years, so I take some pride in the name, but our options were minimal.
“We’re going to have to pay a small price like losing the name.”
Meanwhile, The Forest Hill Bridge Club has been relocated to the nearby North Toronto Memorial Community Centre.
The club, which had been operating out of the library since before Forest Hill was part of Toronto, never signed a lease. Since the club meets only two days a week, the city advised them to apply for a permit at the community centre.
The move should save both the city and the bridge club money, said city spokesperson Natasha Hinds.
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