First the city saved it. Then it was carted across the street. Four years later, Toronto still hasn't found a use for the turret-topped filling station that sits fenced off and empty in a west-end lakeside park.
The Joy Oil Station - a castle-like symbol of a time when driving seemed a romantic affair - is now stuck along the winding road of heritage preservation. The last of a string of gas bars built in the 1930s has become a bargaining chip in negotiations between a city eager to keep a piece of its history, however quirky, and a business looking to extend its decades-long hold on exclusive food contracts.
Plans to restore the mini-castle as a restaurant or snack bar were in the works during the term of the previous city council. One firm, Grenadier Group, has sole rights until 2016 to sell food along the western waterfront, including Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, where the garage now sits. Grenadier offered to invest in the gas station, but in return asked for an extra 15 years on three concession deals it has with the city, locking up food sales in High Park, the nearby lakefront and Sunnyside Pavilion until 2031. The past council asked staff to examine the offer with the help of a business consultant.
Now local Councillor Sarah Doucette is urging the city to try other options, saying the empty gas station was a major topic on the doorstep during the fall campaign. A tourist kiosk, bike or inline-skate rental business would add to the diversity of the waterfront, she said, and wouldn't be hamstrung by existing agreements that prevent other food vendors from bidding on the building for at least five years.
"The last thing I want to do is see this historic building crumble because we are not using it," said the new councillor for Parkdale-High Park. Ms. Doucette said she heard from plenty of constituents who wondered why the city was thinking only of food sales. "Why are we going to let one person monopolize our waterfront? Why can't we think of something different?" she remembers voters asking.
The controversial sole-source food deal approved by the former council for the Beaches neighbourhood often came up, she said.
Ms. Doucette says any report for the city should consider non-food options as well as the Grenadier Group offer. She has asked the city's management committee to consider the change at its meeting next month.
But Antonio Gomez-Palacio, a planner working for Grenadier Group, said the site has already been the subject of some six years of public consultations as part of the master plan for that section of the waterfront. The former gas bar, he said, is significant because of the Lakeshore's role as a gateway to the city. "It tells a story," he said.
Mr. Gomez-Palacio argues a year-round restaurant is the only business that makes sense for the site, given the amount of investment required. Grenadier Group has offered to invest $3-million in its properties, including the former gas station, if it gets the 15-year deal.
He dismissed comparisons with the sole-source deal in the Beaches that became a flashpoint during the election. The city approached his client about the heritage site, he said, and all conversations have been friendly.