Properties included on the Inventory are referred to as
"listed" and are officially recognized by Toronto City Council
as architecturally and/or historically significant.
inclusion on the Inventory is a clear statement that the
city would like these heritage properties preserved.
The City of Toronto's Inventory of Heritage Properties
November 4, 1997
villains square off in this stormy story of Goliath and Goliath. Why does Oxford properties
want so badly to tear the Concourse down and why does the city consent?
Well it resembles those deranged relationships we see on Springer and such -- they call
it codependancy -- each party relying on the reliable bad habits of the other. Let's look at
the site and the politics as the two are inextricably linked.
When Oxford acquired the Concourse in the 1990s, they already owned the whole block save
for a small building at the NW corner. It was Oxford's natural intention to make a
"superblock" development that rivals in prestige the 6 or 7 other financial district
superblock complexes. They would have a lot of work ahead of them. Oxford's block
though big, is not destined to be anywhere as grand as the others. It's bounded by narrow streets and
is already built quite tightly with a hodge podge of smaller structures -- no clear slate.
Nevertheless they pressed on. Before they bought the Concourse they were awarded rights to
build a 35 storey tower mid-block up Sheppard Street. This would sit between their Federal
Building (85 Richmond Street West) and the Concourse. Oxford dropped this location as being
too low-profile. Since then a 50 storey residential tower has been planned across the narrow street
from Oxford's rejected location.
When the Concourse came on the market several years after Oxford's aborted attempt at a new tower, it seemed the perfect solution. It was as
Oxford has said "closer to centre ice" -- the coveted intersection of King and Bay, and it was opposite the Reichman's First Canadian Place. Sure it was
still a bit small and a bit out-of-the-way but hey let's dream big. The big dream was for demolition of the Concourse (yes demolition permits
would have to be issued, how many ways can we say it? D-E-M-O-L-I-S-H-E-D!) and for an out-of-scale reproduction pasted like a partial skin onto
2 elevations of a new 42 storey building.
Preservationists howled. Loudly. This is one of about twenty pre-1950 office "skyscrapers" in Toronto. Though the impression
given by the 'Bay Street Canyon' is of more -- if you count them you'll find just 3 or 4 per side. Deco towers are fewer still -- perhaps 10 total --
and the Concourse has the added benefit of Group of Seven decoration. This would actually work against it though, because Oxford would successfully
convince City Council that in preserving the Group of Seven artifacts of the Concourse and re-installing them, that worthwhile
preservation was being done.
The Concourse by Gerald Zeldin hangs behind the main information desk at City Hall. It
would seem nothing more than a visual bookend for a filing cabinet.
to say City Councilors didn't need all that much convincing really and those who did managed to get frills enough to convince them.
Here's what happened: In order to
build the new tower to a worthwhile size and height Oxford needed the rights to more density. These were found elsewhere on
the Oxford block and
transferred to the Concourse site. Oxford requested that two peripheral buildings (85 and 111 Richmond St. W.) be designated historical, the city
complied and the full densities of both buildings were transferred to the Concourse site. (The unremarkable
85 Richmond had already been designated in Oxford's previous gambit in 1988. 111 Richmond was their offering this time in
2000). It's impossible to fathom the cynicism at City Hall which could
lead Councilors to use one historically designated building as a weapon against another. It is quite contary to the
intention and function of the heritage checks and balances, guidelines and by-laws that they themselves have established.
Councilors further tampered with densities in order to favour the new
tower by rolling out more density rights in trade for a small daycare and some landscaping, both quite prefunctory.
If a beneficent corporation the likes of Oxford Properties can't look after a little daycare and some
landscaping on their own premises well then City Hall must step in and cut a deal I guess. Wow. What attentive service.
In a process that resembles a ballet as much as blackmail, The City extracts amenities from Oxford in return
for the right to influence the city plan, zoning rules and by-laws (1).
It would be a fair transaction in an alternate universe.
In the end the city sacrifices an historical building in order to pay for perks that Oxford will
advertise to prospective tenants. The crassness shocks me even today:
if the city had refused the bonuses would Oxford actually have refused to landscape their plaza out of spite?
Here followeth a brief manifesto: The most important lesson here is that when the city negotiates these real estate deals, heritage
value is non-negotiable, which indeed is the true intention of having a heritage inventory in the first place. If a
property has passed the numerous tests required of it for inclusion on the official heritage inventory THEN PROTECT IT.
period. There can be no other way. Heritage value is not a liquid asset to be moved around as part of a game. It is not
metaphoric, it is real, solid and non-transferable. To treat it otherwise is illogical. Heritage concerns can never compete
head to head with current needs of the city. HERITAGE WILL ALWAYS LOSE. That's why it needs "protection". It is irresponsible to
carry out day to day
transactions at the expense of the heritage that has been put aside for protection. Daycare must be built. Trees must
be planted. Heritage must be tended to. They all must co-exist, no one "winning" over the others.
This is reality. It is the City Councilors who vote for "deals" like this that are the dreamers, to think they are running things, when
things are running them. Remember they wrote this stuff: " Properties included on the Inventory are referred to as
"listed" and are officially recognized by Toronto City Council as architecturally and/or historically significant.
Their inclusion on the Inventory is a clear statement that the city would like these heritage properties preserved."
(1) "Blackmail" may strike you as an overly nasty word here. It's really not my intention to be nasty, but I feel the
process, despite being couched in legalese and groomed by lawyers, is as nasty as the word implies. Furthermore
the evidence is that the developers agree with me. They expect to dangle all sorts of treats in front of City Council(s)
in order to secure the entirely arbitrary favour of the right to more densities than the city allows on paper. The
Ontario Municipal Board also agrees! In a case unrelated to the Concourse, lawyer Stephen Diamond
challenged this 'payment-based' negotiation process at the Ontario Municipal Board on behalf of Tridel
in August 2000 and won. It is official: a city in Ontario which insists on payment to break its
own planning rules (via Section 37 of the Planning Act) now does does so at its own peril. Did I say "blackmail"?
Perhaps "extortion" more accurate. You be the judge. UPDATE: politicians still addicted to shaking down developers
(Sewell Feb 2003).
next page: November 1999 Concourse issue of Act