Selling Casa Loma to the highest bidder is “off the table” now that the mayor’s executive committee has endorsed a plan to seek a private company to operate, not buy, the tourist attraction.
“Assuming council agrees with this report, that option is off the table,” Mike Williams, the city’s general manager of economic development, said in an interview Monday. “We are not putting Casa Loma up for sale because it doesn’t make sense.”
The future of the 98-room Edwardian mansion has been up in the air since last spring, when the municipal government and the Kiwanis Club, the site’s long-time operator, agreed to terminate a 20-year lease early.
At the time, Mayor Rob Ford predicted the city would have to put the castle and its grounds on the block.
“Casa Loma is something that I think eventually we have to sell,” he said in June of 2011. “That’s the bottom line.”
A report to the executive meeting on Monday said Casa Loma could fetch $62-million on the open market – but only if the main building could be turned into a condo or razed to make way for one.
That would be virtually impossible, Mr. Williams said, because Casa Loma enjoys strict heritage and zoning protections.
“[The] big picture is it is an iconic castle and the community wants it to ... continue to be a City of Toronto asset,” he added.
With that in mind, the attraction’s caretaker board recommended the city issue a request for proposals as soon as possible to select a new private operator to revitalize the property.
Executive committee voted unanimously in favour of the proposal, which still needs final approval from the full council. Mr. Ford, chair of the executive committee, left the meeting around 2:30 p.m. and was absent for the vote.
“I hope this time we get it right: That we get an entrepreneur as a partner that’s worthy of that designation,” Councillor Norm Kelly said.
Erected a century ago for the tycoon Sir Henry Pellatt, Casa Loma took three years and 300 men to complete. When Sir Henry’s fortune collapsed, the city seized Toronto’s grandest pile for unpaid taxes.
In 1937, the Kiwanis Club stepped in and agreed to operate the interior of the castle, a role it played until a falling out with the municipal landlord led the two sides to part ways last year.
The service club agreed to step aside early in return for more than $1.4-million for the paintings, furniture, artifacts and trademarks it left behind.
Casa Loma’s new operator will face significant challenges. The castle and its accompanying buildings still need more than $20-million in capital repairs, despite the more than $33-million the city has already spent restoring the exterior of the castle.
The interior is also badly in need of upgrades. “Nobody wants to go ... back to a rundown facility that’s falling apart,” Councillor Paul Ainslie said.