July 6, 2007
Our efforts have helped prevent Maple Leaf Gardens from becoming another building or business. However, we’re okay with going online to play at the casino.
Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens is a group dedicated to help protect the interior and exterior character of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a building which has played a significant role in the collective memory of many Canadians. Our web site ishttp://friendsofmapleleafgardens.ca .
In this issue:
1. Eugene Melnyk clarifies his offer for the Gardens
2. The Preservation Board decides not to preserve
3. Next stop, Community Council – your help is needed
4. Friends’ letter to Preservation Board
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
Eugene Melnyk, owner of Biovail Pharmaceuticals, the Ottawa Senators, and the St. Michael’s Majors, has for several years expressed an interest in purchasing the Gardens to retain it as a hockey rink. On Friday afternoon, May 14, he reiterated his position:
“The following is a statement by Eugene Melnyk, on preserving hockey history in Toronto:
“In less than a month, Toronto will have to decide the fate of Maple Leaf Gardens. My vision for the Gardens is simple: create a unique public space that will be affordable and accessible for everyone in the city. I want to restore its glory and make it a shrine to minor and amateur hockey.
Growing up playing ball hockey on the streets of Toronto, I could never afford to go to a game at the Gardens. I want to restore this building so our kids and Toronto families can watch the excitement of minor hockey at affordable prices. I want to expose more Torontonians to the skills and talent of tomorrow’s NHL stars.
My vision for Maple Leaf Gardens is very different than the one being presented to South Toronto Council on June 8 and full Toronto Council later in the month. Some have said that my interest in buying the Gardens is not serious or sincere. Let me say clearly that I could not be more serious. Concerns were raised that I would use the building to compete with the Air Canada Centre (owned by those who are selling the Gardens) for concerts or other entertainment opportunities.
I have said – and will now say again – that I am prepared to sign a deal that would commit to not hosting concerts or other entertainment beyond the thrills of minor hockey. I am also prepared to consider any other criteria that may be put on the table – as long as I can save the Gardens and give our kids the privilege of playing on the same ice as minor hockey and NHL greats such as Tim Horton, Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly and Dave Keon.
Preserving the facade of Maple Leaf Gardens is not enough. The historical importance of the Gardens has less to do with its exterior. It’s all about the inside — the aura and spirit of a building that played host to events which are deeply significant to preserving Toronto’s history — from Ali to Elvis to 11 Stanley Cup Championships. If you don’t believe me, just look at the Montreal Forum. Its history now largely lost and displaced by movie theatres. I strongly believe that we need to preserve our hockey history in Toronto.
It saddens me to learn that approvals have already been granted to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Indeed, the plan approved last Friday is to pave-over the ice surface for underground parking. My vision for the Gardens could not possibly be more different.
I am releasing today concept drawings I commissioned byBruce Kuwabara – a renowned Toronto architect who has worked on numerous high profile projects including the redesign of Canada’s National Ballet School, the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, and Festival Centre – the new headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival.
My vision for the Gardens includes:
- Reducing seating from 15,000 seats to 10,000 – preserving the best seats in the arena and creating a more intimate venue;
- New glass corporate boxes at both ends of the arena;
- An interactive TV broadcast facility on the corner of Carlton St. and Church St. This would broadcast hockey to the street and have an interactive booth similar to the Speaker’s Corner model used by City TV;
- A two-storey, full service restaurant with enlarged windows overlooking Church St. and interconnected to a restored Hot Stove Lounge;
- 4,000 square feet of prime retail space on Carlton St. and the corner of Church St. and Wood St.;
- A Canadian Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame in the upper bowl, along with other museum-style galleries that would include (a) the history of the Gardens, (b) the history of Canadian amateur hockey, (c) a number of interactive exhibits, (d) unique event space for public use, and;
- Two new glass penthouse lofts of 12,000 square feet each – multifunctional spaces on the East and West sides of the roof and connected by an impressive glass and steel skywalk through the building
I want to restore the property to its former glory and keep it intact as a shrine to Canadian hockey. The South Toronto Council is faced with a very clear choice on June 8. Approve the current plans for a parking lot and supermarket – or consider that there is another viable option on the table. These are two very different visions for what this landmark should be. I am releasing these concept drawings today so everyone can be aware of the choice we face.”
Accompanying the statement are architectural drawings.
The Toronto Preservation Board is a body appointed by city council, consisting of mostly citizen members, with three councillors. It’s role is to advise council on heritage issues, and on May 6 it considered the city staff report recommending that the application by Loblaws to turn the Gardens into a food store be approved.
The meeting began by staff summarizing their recommendations, which were reported in Bulletin No. 2. Jane Marshall then presented for Loblaws and showed (she had a model) there would be two levels of parking underground, over which there would be two levels of retail space, with 80 per cent of the volume of the Gardens unused, providing a vast view of the dome. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario will be brought in as a tenant and there will be shops on Carlton and Church Street sides. Loading bays/parking are on Carlton and Wood Streets at the west end of the building.
John Sewell then spoke and outlined the position of the Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens. (The Friends’ letter is item No. 4 in this Bulletin. ) The Chair of the Board, Pat Gossage, interrupted several times and it was clear that he wanted nothing to stand in the way of the Loblaws proposal, saying that there were no other applications before the Board and therefore no other alternatives could be considered. He said the Gardens was “a wreck” inside which Mr. Sewell challenged on the basis of information available to the Friends that everything in the Gardens was preserved except for the seating. Mr. Sewell pushed for the Board to reject the Loblaws proposal and encourage the Melnyk proposal to come forward.
Mr. Gossage said the Board had to hear from Bob Hunter of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in response. Mr. Hunter said they tried for five years to get proposals that would retain the ice but were unsuccessful and now the property was an embarrassment. He thinks the costs of retrofitting the Gardens is in the tens of millions of dollars. He questioned Mr. Melnyk’s sincerity, saying MLSE had only received a one paragraph letter by way of an offer, and he concluded he does not believe Mr. Melnyk was serious or sincere. However, he did say he would be interesting to see a proposal in writing that offered $1 more than the best offer, that the Gardens would be used for hockey, and a commitment not to hold concerts. Mr. Hunter also said that he did not think there was much interest in saving the Gardens since his company, MLSE, had only received 24 emails in spite of thousands of pamphlets and advertisements in the paper asking people to write.
Mr. Gossage then said he was willing to hear from only two more deputants. Mr. Sewell challenged him and said the Board had an obligation to listen to anyone who wanted to speak, but Mr. Gossage was insistent and only two people were allowed to speak. Brendan McKinnon was one of those, and he said that Canadians do not have many buildings that are known around the world but the Gardens is one of them. He said few people send in emails because they are cynical and they think that leaders believe that nothing is sacred any more . He said Maple Leaf Gardens transcends boundaries but the Loblaws store is soulless. He thought Loblaws could easily find another site.
The Preservation Board itself then dealt with the matter. Councillor Kyle Rae virtually fell over himself moving approval for Loblaws, saying he has had no calls concerning it, and saying the Loblaws proposal is “respectful of the building.” Councillor Jane Pitfield agreed that the exterior of the building is the key. She said it would be nice to keep the ice surface but it can’t be done. She wants to keep the Maple Leaf Gardens sign even if it is a Loblaws store.
Citizen member Edith Geduld was saddened that the ice rink was not being retained and she thought the Board should express that concern since she felt the Board only had the power to protect the exterior of the building. Citizen member Bob Glover, a former city planner, thought Loblaws was making a good reuse of the structure. Citizen member Peter Hamikwa was the only member of the Board to say that Lob laws should not be permitted to use the building this way. He said the heritage aspects were tied into the use of the Gardens for hockey and the retail proposals has a substantial impact on heritage.
Mr. Gossage said that it was improper to express the condition that Edith Geduld had suggested and so a vote was taken on the Loblaws proposals. It was approved with only one dissention, that of Peter Hamikwa.
The recommendation of the Preservation Board goes next to the Toronto South Community Council on June 8.
The recommendation of the Preservation Board goes next to the Toronto South Community Council on June 8, and then to Toronto City Council on June 22. The Heritage Act requires that City Council make a decision about this application at the June 22 meeting or it will be assumed that the application is approved.
This means that the Toronto South Community Council and City Council itself should both be asked to reject the application by Loblaws so that the Melnyk offer can be considered fairly.
The members of the Toronto South Community Council are the following councillors:
Phone numbers can be found at http://www.toronto.ca , and click on `councillors.’
Please email one or all of the councilors to express your concern about the future of the Gardens. Ask councilors to reject the application by Loblaws, and to encourage negotiations between Mr. Melnyk and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to ensure the building continues as a hockey rink.
This letter sets out a course of action regarding the application to alter Maple Leaf Gardens.
- The ticking clock and a public process
Section 33 of the Ontario Heritage Act states that City Council has 90 days to make a decision on an application to alter a designated building. The clock begins running from the date when the notice of receipt of the application is sent to the applicant. It states in subsection 5 that if no decision is made within 90 days of an application being filed “Council shall be deemed to have consented to the application.”
This application was made on March 16, 2004, and the Notice of Receipt was sent out on April 22. This means City Council must make a decision by July 21, that is, at its June Council meeting.
This time frame leaves enough time for the Board to sponsor a good public process. There is a great deal of public interest in the future of the Gardens, and a public process should harness that interest. Proposals for the Gardens should be posted on the city’s website, and be made available in a public place such as City Hall for viewing; the Board should publicize the application received and other proposals; and it should hold a special meeting where members of the public have an opportunity of making their views known to the Board.
We recognize that this will be a major undertaking for the Board but it is entirely appropriate in dealing with a building of the cultural significance of Maple Leaf Gardens. The relevance of the Board will be shown by its ability to grapple with ways to protect and enhance the special heritage characteristics of the Gardens, and ensure any redevelopment proposal protects them.
- Designating Maple Leaf Gardens
The Gardens was designated by Council in 1990 and it is important in considering what is an “acceptable” alteration to review the designation statement with care. It reads as follows:
The property at 438 Church Street, known as Maple Leaf Gardens, is designated on architectural and historical grounds. Maple Leaf Gardens, since its construction in 1931, has been the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where radio coverage of “Hockey Night in Canada” began and was broadcast by Foster Hewitt for almost fifty years. As well, it has been the arena for a variety of events and public gatherings including the protest rallies of the Depression, skating carnivals, the circus, the opera, concerts and numerous sports events. The buff brick structure with stone trim was designed by Architects, Ross and Macdonald, with Jack Ryrie and Mackenzie Waters, Associate Architects. The architectural design successfully combines both art moderne and art deco styles, giving scale and interest to the rectangular form of the building. Important features of the exterior include varied form on the elevations, the great dome with crowning lantern, surface setbacks at top of corners, fenestration arrangement and metal sash. Other significant elements include the stone banding at the second, sixth and roof levels, stone window spandrels, trim around entrances and former shopfronts and the flagpoles. Simple masonry brickwork patterns with corbelled courses at the corners, around the windows, and on the first floor base are also important. The concrete structure and the significant engineering of the steel truss system supported on four corner piers, provides spectators with a clear view of the ice surface, unobstructed by column supports in the interior. Maple Leaf Gardens is a fixture in Toronto’s public life and is well known throughout Canada.” Schedule B, Bylaw 44-91 passed by Council, December 12, 1990
The key elements to note about the interior are its role as a hockey rink, as the locus of Foster Hewitt’s broadcasts, and the many public events that occurred there. The events that happened in the interior of the building are significant for many people in Canada. They are key reasons for designating the structure.
Attached are the comments of Dr. Michael Bliss about why he thought the building was important. These comments are excerpted from the 1990 report recommending designation.
A sliding scale is used to make decisions about the extent to which an application meets the reasons for designation. However, if an application is to generally continue using the structure in the same ways for which it was designated, then the tough decisions don’t have to be made and one is not forced to choose between the best of a set of proposals that breaks the continuity and the structure.
As it turns out, there is no need to assess the degree of harm done by the Loblaws proposal since another proposal exists which continues the use and form of the building set out in the designating statement.
We believe it is incumbent on the Preservation Board to use the statement of designation as the document against which the acceptability of alterations is tested. Using this yard stick, it is clear that the Loblaws proposal is not acceptable.
- Opportunities available.
Many people seem to think that the proposal by Loblaws is the only viable alternative on the table. However, this is not the case.
Melnyk’s proposal clearly meets the criteria laid out in the designating statement in that it continues to use the interior in the ways that City Council considered historically important.
Thus there appears to be a very active proponent of exactly the kinds of uses for the Gardens that the Board should support.
- The Board should defer this matter to a future meeting;
- The Board should schedule a well-advertised evening meeting where members of the public can make their views known about proposals for Maple Leaf Gardens.
- The Board should indicate its concerns that the Loblaws proposal falls far short of responding to the reasons for designation and is inferior to the Melnyk proposal.
- The Board should encourage the Melnyk proposal to again come forward, and should do what it can to convince Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to accept this more desirable proposal.
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