Residents decry planned Columbus Centre redevelopment

About 200 people gathered at a public meeting on Wednesday to voice their concerns about a planned redevelopment of the Columbus Centre, which some say is integral to the city's Italian community.

Owner Villa Charities, TCDSB want to raze North York community centre and build new facilities

Located at Dufferin Street and Lawrence Avenue West , the Columbus Centre houses fitness amenities, banquet rooms and restaurants, long-term care facilities, an art gallery and extensive landscaped grounds, all created decades ago by the city's Italian community. (Mike Smee/CBC)

About 200 people gathered at a public meeting on Wednesday to voice their concerns about a planned redevelopment of the Columbus Centre, which some say is integral to the city's Italian community.

"The Columbus Centre is more than bricks and mortar," MPP Mike Colle, who hosted the meeting, told CBC Toronto.

"It's an expression of the sacrifices made by the immigrants who came from Italy."

MPP Mike Colle hosted the meeting at the Beth Torah synagogue in North York. (CBC)

It was announced this summer that the owner of the North York community centre, Villa Charities, is joining with the Toronto Catholic District School Board in a $70-million redevelopment. The plan is to raze the existing structure and build new facilities, which would include a Catholic high school, Dante Alighieri Academy.

Located at Dufferin Street and Lawrence Avenue West, the Columbus Centre currently houses fitness amenities, banquet rooms and restaurants, long-term care facilities, an art gallery and extensive landscaped grounds, all created decades ago by the city's Italian community.

Residents gathered at the Beth Torah synagogue in North York decried the plan and pressed the facility's importance to the community.

Luisa Giacometti called the centre 'the heart and soul of Italian culture.' (CBC)

"This is a very important matter," said Elio Costa. "To lose Columbus Centre, and to allow Villa Charities to do what they're doing, it would be a great loss to the community."

Luisa Giacometti called the centre "the heart and soul of Italian culture."

"We don't have that sort of community anywhere else and it's important to keep it where it is," she said.

'Release the documents'

Boosting revenue is one of the reasons why Villa Charities struck the partnership with the board, but not the main one, the organization's president and CEO, Anthony DiCaita, previously told CBC Toronto.

He said that the new development would bring more programs to the centre and that the additions in the new plan will be a vast improvement for members.

Ian Duncan MacDonald, who created the Columbus Athlete and Social Association when he learned about the proposed changes to the centre earlier this year, disagrees.

Ian Duncan MacDonald created the Columbus Athlete and Social Association when he learned about the proposed changes to the centre earlier this year. (CBC)

"It isn't going to be a bigger or better community centre," he said, noting that health memberships and other amenities would be scrapped under the new plan.

"We're sharing facilities with high-school kids."

Colle decried the lack of transparency from the TCDSB and Villa Charities.

"If this deal is so good, release the documents, show us the deal. They won't," he said.

An architect's model of the new Columbus Centre complex sits in the building's rotunda. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Colle is also calling for an investigation.

"I want the provincial minister of education to appoint a provincial investigator to find out what the financial arrangements are behind this."

DiCaita previously said he expects there will be shovels in the ground by next summer, and that the redevelopment will be completed in 2020.