Mayor Rob Ford is adding his voice to a growing number of councillors urging the city to evict Café on the Square, the company that operates the City Hall cafeteria.
A City of Toronto staff report this week revealed that the city is considering ending its lease with the company, saying it owes more than $330,000 in unpaid fees just two years into its 10-year lease.
“I really want these people to own up to their agreement, pay what they owe. And if they don’t, then unfortunately we have to move on and look for something else,” the mayor said Thursday.
He said he would be in favour of opening the space – which takes up prime real estate in the front of City Hall and along Nathan Phillips Square – to any businesses that submit bids, and that whoever takes it should expand opening hours.
“On the weekends, we have a ton of traffic, especially in the summer,” Mayor Ford said. “They’ve restricted their hours. You look at all the other restaurants downtown, and they’re open very late on the weekends. We have to have a business that wants to be open for the tourists, for everyone that comes downtown late at night.”
Asked what restaurants he might like to see there, the mayor, who has recently been on a chicken-and-vegetables weight-loss diet, laughed and said, “Chicken and vegetables.”
Other members of city council also weighed in on the issue this week, with their own ideas on alternatives for food at City Hall.
Councillor Doug Ford suggested that Tim Hortons might want to set up shop in the space, while Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said the city could partner with a culinary school, such as the one at George Brown College. “If we can bring one partnership or another with George Brown, the aspiring chefs and chefs of the future who are familiar with all of the wonderful taste combinations that exist at the city, then maybe we’d get a better restaurant at City Hall and one that the residents of Toronto would enjoy.”
And Councillor Josh Colle, who described the current café as “overpriced,” said he would like to see the large space divided up into several restaurants and cafés fronting onto the square. “Everyone in there is really kind and nice and there’s great staff. I just think we can do more,” he said. “I think we should have more of it. I would have five cafés on the square, and see who would want to operate here.”
The café, which has been frequented by City Hall goers since 1999, renewed its $700,000 lease with the city in 2012 for 10 years. But the staff report says that, just two years into that term, the company has failed to pay more than $190,000 in maintenance fees and has not carried out $140,000 worth of renovations agreed upon in the lease.
According to the staff report, the café’s problems stem from changes to the lease terms in 2012 that dramatically increased the “common area and maintenance” rates, and removed the company’s exclusive rights as food-service provider at City Hall.
Another reason it cites for the café’s financial situation is that in 2010 – shortly after Mayor Ford was elected with a mandate to “stop the gravy train” – city council voted to end the practice of providing snacks and drinks at meetings.
The issue is set to be debated by the city’s government management committee on Monday.