All-ages electronic dance parties are back at Exhibition Place, with Toronto council lifting the ban imposed last month by the board of the city-owned site.
The 31-4 decision on Thursday follows a high-pitched debate that pitted councillors who argue the events are unsafe against those who say it is better to have the gatherings, which allow under-age participants and attract thousands, on city property where they can be regulated.
Councillor Mark Grimes, chair of the Exhibition Place board, urged council to keep the ban at least until statistics on emergency service calls to the events could be made public, but his efforts to defer debate were unsuccessful.
Area councillor Mike Layton, who brought forward the motion to have the ban lifted, said there was no need to end the long-held council policy to host such events that was developed when raves were popular.
“People were using fear. People were using emotional arguments,” he said of attempts to prohibit the dance events.
The ban gained added attention because of the role played by the owner of the nearby Muzik nightclub, which also operates at Exhibition Place. The bar is a favoured destination of Mayor Rob Ford, and its owner, Zlatko Starkovski, pushed for the ban, warning the Exhibition Place board that the all-ages events are magnets for pedophiles and drug dealers. “Eventually, something is going to go wrong,” he warned board members last month.
Councillor Gord Perks, also a member of the Exhibition Place board, said the ban was designed to protect business interests, not the people at the dance parties, accusing its supporters of “manufactured moral panic.”
“It’s never been about safety,” he said.
Mr. Starkovski holds a 20-year lease to operate his club in the former Horticultural Building and is in the midst of a major outdoor renovation that includes three pools and space for more than 5,000 people. He is expected to ask the Exhibition Place board at its next meeting to strengthen protection against competition from other venues.
Muzik rents the site from the city for a below-market rate of $10,000 a month (with possible top-ups if sales hit a certain threshold), according to a court document obtained by The Globe and Mail. In the same document, an 2010 affidavit, Mr. Starkovski said a real estate appraisal revealed a “realistic” rent for the venue was $85,000 a month. He said the lower rent was fair, however, because he has invested in renovations of the building.
Mr. Starkovski in January wrote to the Exhibition Place board expressing concern about the impact of the all-ages dance parties on his club. “Each event that occurs further jeopardizes our business plan,” his letter concluded.
The motion city council passed on Thursday also asks the Exhibition Place board to review safety protocols for the dance parties and report by July.
It is estimated the events generated about $1-million annually for Exhibition Place.