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New music venue proposed for city-owned building in Toronto


Though live music venues across Toronto have shuttered due to the pandemic, a proposal to open a new concert hall on Queen Street West by summer promises to bring some hope for music lovers.

City staff are recommending that a city-owned building at 468 Queen St. W. be transformed into a music venue and rehearsal space.

The proposal, which will be presented to the city’s general government and licensing committee next week, asks the city to enter into a two-year lease with the not-for-profit music organization It’s OK* for the property.

The building, formerly a retail store, was acquired by the city in late 2021 with the intent of turning the site and some adjacent properties into a new city park, cultural space and affordable housing. The proposed venue would be a bridge until the city is ready to begin work at the site in 2024.

If the proposal is approved, it would mark the first time a city-owned site has been leased on an interim basis for use as a live music venue, while awaiting redevelopment, said Coun. Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches – East York).

“It’s the first, but it certainly won’t be the last,” said Bradford, who is also chair of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee. “We need to make sure that we see more of these coming forward in the future.”

Local Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina – Fort York), former chair of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee, said the site will be leased to It’s OK* rent-free, though the music organization will have to pay utilities and a reduced property tax. The report being presented to council notes that if the city doesn’t enter the lease agreement, site maintenance will cost more than $126,000 annually.

Cressy said the space will be used as a DIY music venue — an ad hoc, non-traditional arts space meant to serve new and emerging artists and musicians.

“Live music is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have,” he said. “Live musicians need to have the opportunities to not only get their start, but develop their skills.”

The building on Queen Street West will be used as a “flexible, multidisciplinary arts hub,” said Said Yassin, founder and artistic director with It’s OK*, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2018 that aims to develop the talents of Black, Indigenous and racialized artists.

“As a Black person who likes lots of different genres of music, I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable in certain spaces,” said Yassin. “As much as I love creating musical experiences and bringing people together … what I love even more is supporting people in entrepreneurship and that DIY spirit, and supporting folks who look like me, seeing their vision through.”

Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, said the proposed venue is “fantastic news” for the city’s live music industry, which has been ravaged by the pandemic.

“Artists need to be able to be free to create, so we have to really find, foster and nurture these spaces,” Benjamin said. “They’re elemental to an authentic music city.”

If approved by the general government and licensing committee, the proposal will be presented to city council April 6. The venue may be ready for public use as early as mid-2022.

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