A private developer holds the key to a proposed rescue of the iconic grain silos at the western edge of Toronto's central waterfront.
On Monday, at Mayor David Miller's executive committee, city officials are expected to lay out a plan to restore the former Canadian Malting silos that, a mere two months ago, were at risk of being razed.
What's changed? A fresh plan by the cash-strapped city to invest public and private dollars to preserve heritage structures of a bygone industrial era that could define the future of Toronto's waterfront.
"We think the preservation of these Canadian Malting silos is important and we have to think creatively about how to do that," says the city's chief planner, Gary Wright. If retained, the giant silos on city-owned land would serve as bookends to privately held silos now being integrated into the new East Bayfront neighbourhood at the eastern edge of the central waterfront.
In September, the city abandoned plans for a $100-million history museum at the foot of Bathurst Street near Queens Quay Boulevard, with the city's chief corporate office for facilities and real estate recommending the silos be torn down for $8.4-million, leaving only a "symbolic outline."
Two factors weighed against preserving the iconic structures: the global recession and the emergence of Old City Hall, with its downtown, tourist-friendly location, as a possible venue for the Toronto Museum Project. With the possible relocation of the museum, there was no public investment to jump-start a restoration of the silos. As important, the economic downturn cooled developer interest in a possible waterfront condo and hotel on the 1.4-hectare site at Eireann Quay.
"The combination of the economic pause and the availability of Old City Hall is why we have moved our sights to that site," says Rita Davies, director of cultural services for the city.
The proposal to the executive committee comes with backing from city departments that previously had clashed over whether to destroy the silos. The new plan would be carried out in two phases, first with city dollars and later with private funds.
In the first phase, the city would spend almost $12-million (already in the 2009 operating budget) to demolish smaller, derelict buildings west of the silos built in 1929 and 1944, repair sections of the dock wall and secure safe public access to nearby Ireland Park.
In the second phase, city planners would begin work next year on a "master plan," including Official Plan amendments to permit residential use south of Queens Quay, for a little more housing and a lot more commercial and retail development in the neighbourhood.
A report would go to the new council in 2011, outlining the sale of a portion of the site to a private developer for a small-scale condo/retail project. That land sale could generate a chunk of an estimated $10-million in additional funds the city needs to refurbish the silos and improve public access to the water's edge.
Still, some councillors are skeptical the city can afford to restore the silos.
"It is nice to preserve things but you can't preserve everything," says councillor Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre). "This is valuable property we should be doing something about."
Local councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), disagrees. He held meetings recently to gauge enthusiasm for future private investment that could include a small-scale condo development, new retail and possibly a neighbourhood movie house and swimming pool.
"That sort of development might provide the money required to do the total preservation," Mr. Vaughan says. "We're now trying to figure out the economics and see if that generates the money that is required.
"If it does, we are off to the races," he predicts.