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TTC nears deal for transit museum, new headquarters

The Toronto Transit Commission is close to inking a deal to move its headquarters into a sparkling new building that would include a 14,200-square-foot transit museum, a proposal one mayoral candidate has vowed to cancel.

"I especially oppose any further spending towards a museum. It's clear to all of us that ride the TTC that [the transit system]is museum enough for all of us," George Smitherman said on Friday. "Before it's too late, get a grip on reality. Don't invest $238,000 in a museum that nobody sees as a priority today."

The $238,000 the former deputy premier referred to is the 2010 portion of a contract the TTC signed with renowned museum consultants Lord Cultural Resources to design a "transit visitor centre" that is mentioned in a report going to the commission's next board meeting on Monday. But TTC chair Adam Giambrone said the money is already gone.

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"We've already spent the $238,000," he said. "If you were to stop everything today, you might be able to save a few billable hours, but that's it."

The museum itself is supposed to be paid for entirely by the private sector, he added.

The TTC hired Lord Cultural Resources to draft plans for a transit museum inspired by the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco, the Transit Museum in New York City and the London Transport Museum.

The decommissioned Danforth bus garage was the leading location for the museum until the TTC began negotiating with Build Toronto, the city's real-estate development arm, to move into a new eight-storey office tower to be erected on a TTC commuter lot at York Mills station on the Yonge subway line.

Mr. Giambrone said Build Toronto is due to brief him on the final numbers Sunday in hopes of having a proposed lease deal ready for the commission meeting on Monday.

Although Mr. Smitherman has slammed plans for a new headquarters, Mr. Giambrone has said the TTC will move only if it saves money. The commission wants to consolidate its approximately 1,000 engineers, designers, lawyers, project managers and other office staff, currently scattered across five leased locations and two TTC-owned buildings, including its headquarters atop Davisville station

The 54-year-old Davisville building needs $30-million in repairs and upgrades in the next five years. The TTC spends $8.6-million annually to lease five other offices.

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Other mayoral candidates were less critical of the potential move to Yonge and York Mills. Rob Ford decided to withhold comment until the financial fine print of the possible lease deal is made public.

Rocco Rossi praised the TTC for attempting to consolidate to save money, but he said he would prefer the transit agency look at less expensive options in neighbourhoods that could use an economic boost.

"My issue is ... why limit it to what will still be a very expensive location at Yonge and York Mills," he said, adding he wouldn't want to dedicate any more resources to a transit museum.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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