TORONTO - Maria Rizzo, Trustee and Vice-Chair at the TCDSB for Ward 5, is a key player in the never-ending saga about the demolition of the Columbus Centre to make way for the construction by the Villa Charities Inc of multiple condominium towers. She is an intriguing individual.
For VCI, the Columbus Centre, and all it represents to the local and wider community, is little more than an inconvenient nuisance. They are pursuing the grander goal of constructing condos, which at today’s prices could fetch a handsome $1.5 billion. They are still registered as a Charity, so it remains to be seen how they will distribute the windfall. They are not saying.
Back to Maria Rizzo. Earlier in the year, in a heated North York Community Council meeting where VCI and TCDSB argued their case for the project, it was she who declared to all present that the communications on the project had been botched from the start, and that consequently the partnership was losing the trust of the community. Nothing has changed.
One half of that partnership – the TCDSB – held another “round table discussion”, Tuesday night, with principals in the area schools, presidents of parent councils and some interested parents. For good measure, two superintendents, the Director and one Associate Director of the Board were also present to hear what their employees would have to offer in their presence.
With them and the consultants the total number of participants was just shy of 30. I asked Maria Rizzo if there was something new that they expected to hear from this group; a cynic (me, unfortunately) might fall to the tempting conclusion that the report was already in the oven.
The attendees had been specifically invited to hear about the wonderful new school that would be added to the roster of the TCDSB. The building of a school, whatever its merits per se, have not been an issue. But, I asked Maria, is it necessary to tear down a community icon and cultural asset in order to build it? And why was she so insistent on doing so?
Her answer was surprising to say the least. In brief, she supports TCDSB’s acquisition of the VCI so that the road required by City Planners (the road that would go through the Rotonda of the Centre, as depicted elsewhere on this page) could be avoided; thus, saving the Columbus Centre. The roadway makes possible a “best use” utilization of lands to the east suitable for three high rise condominiums.
None of the drawings in the presentation showed how that would work. In my impatience, I asked if that was a proposal that was not yet on the table. It may well not be … yet. There were no VCI representatives to either confirm or deny a proverbial “plan B”.
So far, she acknowledged, she is alone in her defense and promotion of an alternative to save the Centre. I empathize.
The National Congress of Italian Canadians (Ontario and Toronto branches) has been unavailable for comment on the issue; ditto the recently restructured COMITES; equally mute is the Centro Scuola and Cultura; silent, as well are both the Chamber of Commerce and the CIBPA. No need to mention the VCI, which bills itself as the ”voice of the community”.
Meanwhile, VCI is overhauling staff at the Carrier Gallery; shuttering the Alberto Di Giovanni Library; cancelling programs of an artistic and cultural nature in an effort to show that the demolition is a fait accompli. It is buying up advertising in any manner of printed and electronic media to sell the idea that destruction of what the community already has, so that the TCDSB can construct an alternative.
Some of the attendees, notwithstanding the strategic presence of “authority figures” around the room, began to question openly, in their reports, the need for change; and to wonder aloud “to whose benefit?”
Maria Rizzo must feel like Horatio at the bridge.