City council agrees our castle on the hill should double as our museum of Toronto history.
Reps voted on Oct. 3 to ask for proposals in hope of finding a suitable operator and multi-year leasing arrangement for Casa Loma. In doing so, they also signed off on a requirement that proposals incorporate space for a Toronto museum, an idea put forth by St. Paul’s councillor Josh Matlow.
“Essentially, what we’re saying to any potential operator is give us your best ideas, give us your best suggestions on how you’d like to operate it — recognizing that there will be a Toronto museum.”
Matlow said Toronto is lagging behind other large cities that boast museums dedicated to their municipal histories. Much of Toronto’s collection of artifacts is currently housed at offices in Liberty Village.
“We can finally bring so many artifacts that have been hidden from public view for many years on Atlantic Avenue out to the public,” Matlow said.
Matlow, who recently toured Casa Loma and adjacent properties with city manager Joe Pennachetti and economic development manager Mike Williams, said he’s now focused on involving the philanthropic community and others who would like to return Casa Loma to grandeur.
Councillors also favoured a separate request to seek possible uses for the Casa Loma complex north of the castle, namely, the Hunting Lodge, stables, potting shed, the property at 330 Walmer Rd., and some surrounding green space.
Last year, the city wrested control of Casa Loma from its previous Kiwanis Club managers after they failed to improve revenues or facilitate renovations.
Trelawny Howell, great-niece of Casa Loma builder Sir Henry Pellatt, said she supports the idea of a Toronto museum in the castle.
However, she raised caution about the way the request for proposal process has been structured. She said potential operators are subject to a slew of conditions, including absorbing renovation costs and service contracts. Pegasus Catering Group, an exclusive caterer for Casa Loma has a contract that runs to the end of 2019.
“The city can’t just hand over their past mistakes and costs to a new operator — that’s not how you lease a place out.”
Instead, council should look at an open tender process, as recommended by an advisory committee five years ago, she said.
“Let [operators] come in with their own entrepreneurial, creative ideas and then you can narrow it down from there and have a professional panel make the decisions on this,” Howell said.
She’s also not convinced the castle won’t be sold at some point.
Though Mayor Rob Ford had at one time talked of selling Casa Loma, Matlow said no councillors have raised the matter and staff has rejected the idea.
“The idea of selling it and allowing it to become a private hotel or condo, is something that I think would be a disservice to its history,” Matlow said.
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