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Toronto’s Waterfront Night Market to stay outside as Hearn plant deemed unsafe

The decommissioned Richard L. Hearn Generating Station located on Unwin Ave. in Toronto's Portlands area is photographed on Oct. 10, 2011.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Waterfront Night Market will have to be held outside its newly chosen venue this year, as Toronto Fire Services has deemed the interior of the Hearn Generating Station unsafe for public use.

After holding the festival for many years at the parking lots next to T&T Supermarket, the festival, which is opening Friday, chose to relocate to the decommissioned power plant this year. Toronto Fire Services said the building, built in 1951, does not meet requirements under the Ontario Fire Code and has serious deficiencies.

"Our primary focus is to protect the safety of the public," said Toronto Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop. "Hosting public events in a space that is not equipped with fire alarm systems, proper lighting, fire exits and other serious deficiencies is not acceptable."

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Kevin M. Yee, the Waterfront Night Market's director of operations, said the indoor component was only a small part of the three-day, pan-Asian food festival, and the show is still on but will be held entirely outdoors.

In recent years, the Hearn station has been used as an events space and filming location – most recently hosting the Luminato festival in 2016. Previously, the inside of the building could be used temporarily if necessary safety measures were in place, Mr. Jessop said. He added that the city has now taken a stronger approach and temporary use of the building will no longer be allowed.

"We recognize the importance of the building to the city," Mr. Jessop said. "But at the end of the day, we not only have a moral responsibility but a statutory responsibility, that if we are going to permit letting people go into the building and use it as an assembly, that it is safe."

Luminato organizers spent thousands of dollars in 2016 and roughly 10 months working with the city and fire services to ensure the building had all the necessary safety measures. But when the event wrapped up, the safety measures were removed and the space became, again, an old building with no fire alarm system or proper lighting.

Mr. Jessop said the city wasn't aware the Waterfront Night Market was taking place until city staff noticed the event listing online.

Ben Hum, one of the event's co-ordinators, said organizers were not aware of the requirements and assumed that the lease holder, Studios of America, would have told them what they needed to know.

"There was a little bit of confusion," said Mr. Hum, adding that because the festival is typically outdoors, the lease holder may have not expected the event to have an indoor portion.

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The site is owned by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), which has leased the space to Studios of America. A spokesperson for OPG said in an e-mail that Studios of America has "care and control of the property and is responsible for all requirements of law." Studios of America could not be reached for comment.

The deputy fire chief said the department will be working with the lease holder to take the necessary steps to ensure life and fire safety measures are in place, but that no public events will be taking place inside the venue until that is done.

The indoor portion of the Waterfront Night Market would have included an art market, which will be relocated outside. The event is expected to attract 120,000 people and more than 150 vendors.

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