TORONTO - The issue of demolishing a cultural and community icon has now reached the Nation’s Capital. Yes, MPs from various constituencies around the country has begun to voice their opposition to the tearing down of the Columbus Centre to make way for Condominium development.
Those MPs join their colleague MPPs from Queen’s Park – including at least two Cabinet Ministers – and Toronto City Councillors who voted unanimously against the proposal. For good measure, so did North York Community Council. The Mayor, John Tory, walked with protestors demonstrating against the proposal.
The only “institutional” entity that continues to defy the public is the Developer: Toronto Catholic District School Board-Villa Charities Inc. But money talks.
The duo has embarked on a spend rift public relations blitz that is huge on style an non-existent on substance. First, they are spending between $100,000 and $150,000 – each, apparently - to engage the community in a mockery of consultation seminars. Evidently, some 50 companies responded to a Request for Proposals (RFP) to conduct these “staged” events.
One cannot tell what the exact costs are because VCI’s CEO, Mr. (none of your f***ing business) Anthony Dicaita won’t say, and the TCDSB won’t tell, unless a request for freedom of information is accompanied by a cheque for $13,000.
Second, they have produced some videos whose content extolls the values of the Columbus Centre, the grounds and the programs – the very ones they are prepared to send into extinction – for airing on various television and electronic media outlets at a cost one can only imagine (no pun intended).
The idea being that if one puts “lipstick on a pig”, the animal (in this case, the project) somehow is more appealing.
On that point, the pamphlet campaign and the ads in “local media” must be costing a “pretty penny” - $3,000 to $5000 per page in newsprint. A one-page ad in a “freebie” glossy magazine, run by the former CEO of VCI, costs $5000. There were five such ads in the last edition and four in every previous edition ($125,000.?).
There is no money to fix the showers in the Columbus Centre.
But, both TCDSB and VCI are awash with cash. Canada Revenue Agency files for VCI suggest net annual revenues in excess of $8 million.
VCI owns three condominium complexes, all built with government financing, all of them either mortgage free or with rental income vastly surpassing expenditures – Caboto Terrace, Casa Del Zotto and Centro Abruzzo. It also owns Villa Colombo in Toronto and Villa Vaughan. They are two long-term [chronic care] facilities.
The Province pays for every single dollar expended for patients and “guests”. In fact, as the Ministry of Community and Social Services resets its standards for services and structural facilities, it also makes available the required dollars to effect those changes.
Contrary to self-indulgent statements by Board members of VCI regarding improvements to Villa, any “revamp” will be paid for and mandated by the Provincial Government.
The question the public should ask is simple: ”If there is great disrepair, who has been in charge of this community not-for profit organization, and why are they still in place?”
Some Trustees on The TCDSB are also ripe for removal. Maybe that’s the reason they have dug in their heels in defiance of common sense, responsible decision-making and [shockingly] public opinion.
The TCDSB persists in trying to make a case for a school it does not need, but which VCI needs as cover for condo development on the campus. The condominiums scheduled are not for family housing.
The students currently at Dante Alighieri are transported in. The enrolment from 2011 to this September has collapsed from 1300+ to around 900. The TCDSB proposes to house the Columbus Centre Day Care clients in the excess inventory.
The adjacent Regina Mundi Elementary School, home to a significant number of children from outside the area and the city, also experienced a decline in enrolment.
For reasons which it is not prepared to divulge on the record, the TCDSB bought 3.1 acres of land from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for $18 million. The lands are immediately adjacent to Dante’s northern boundary and east of its rarely- used soccer field. It has also bought (but “not yet closed the deal”) 3.467 acres of land from VCI for approximately $22 million.
This latter purchase allows the TCDSB to own an uninterrupted parcel from Lawrence Ave. to Playfair Ave. and to bolster a “justification” for building a new Dante Academy fronting on a main street. The parcel includes the Columbus Centre.
That new school would be built on that site after demolition of the Columbus Centre and the construction of a road which passes immediately through the Rotonda (as per map). A $32.8 million grant from Kathleen Wynne’s government would make this possible. More than $2 million of it has already been spent on feasibility studies. But it’s not too late for the Government to yank the funds.
In summary. Elected officials in the area – the MP, the MPP, the City Councillor – agree that this is a bad project.
The elected Trustee of the Catholic School Board says, heck with you I’m building any way!