The St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts stands in its shadow like an aging, leaky relic, but whether to repair it or rebuild it is the question that now faces Toronto city council.
Located next door to the glitzy Meridian Centre on Front Street, the centre was built in the 1960s and still books plenty of acts. But some 50 years later, it hasn’t aged well.
The choice is whether to spend the more than $40 million to bring it back into good repair or to fork out $200 million to transform the building into a multi-faceted arts centre.
“Do we want to spend that money to stay in the state of good repair in the building that we’re in, or do we want to leverage that money on a redevelopment project?” said Clyde Wagner, president and CEO for TO Live, the city agency that manages and operates Toronto’s three major civic theatres.
The agency began looking at the state of the space several years ago and through an audit of the building, decided to recommend a full redevelopment.
Matthew Farrell, vice president of operations for TO Live, says keeping the centre running over the last several years has meant “one band-aid on top of another.”
At the moment, artists who may require mobility devices have no accessibility ramp to get onto stage, he says.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to tell an artist we can’t get them onto the stage or into their dressing room in any kind of dignified manner. We’ve lost clients because of it and it’s an absolute shame,” Farrell said.
Speaking on Thursday, Mayor John Tory said, “I sure am strongly in favour of the notion of saying … before you spend the 42 million you’d better ask yourself the question: ‘Are you better off to build a new building.'”
Tory acknowledged the importance of commercial theatre in the city, but said he also sees immense value in non-profit theatre in Toronto.
City council will vote next week to begin the consultation.