Shiny new Broadview Hotel a symbol of change in Riverside

As the revamped Broadview Hotel in Toronto's east end readies for its first overnight guests later this week, some area residents hail the venue as a symbol of rebirth in a neighbourhood that just two years ago hosted clusters of shuttered storefronts.

It's a far cry from social housing, but residents say the hotel signals a kind of ethical gentrification

The new Broadview Hotel will take overnight guests later this week, which one community worker says signals change in the neighbourhood. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The revamped Broadview Hotel in Toronto's east end readies for its first overnight guests later this week.

With its flashy modern interior and rooftop terraces, some Riverdale locals are hailing the venue, long a staple of the Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue area, as a symbol of rebirth in a neighbourhood that just two years ago hosted clusters of shuttered storefronts.

The vacant properties were "becoming an issue that people were talking about," said Jennifer Lay, Riverside's Business Improvement Area director. Now, "there's no vacancy. It's pretty much full up."

The building that's now home to the hotel, officially named Dingman's Hall, was built by a soapmaker in 1891 who thought the neighbourhood could use a community hub.

It's been a bicycle club, residential complex and, lately, an entertainment venue — the infamous Jilly's strip club — that only three years ago was topped with cheap rooms used by low-income tenants.

The Broadview Hotel opens this week to the public and CBC Toronto got a tour of the newly revamped hotel located at the corner of Queen and Broadview. 2:01

Now, although tributes to past iterations remain, the hotel has ramped up its offerings with higher-end services for a community starting to see an influx of affluent newcomers.

'Wonderful partnership' with community

Although building owner Streetcar Developments pushed out lower-income residents when it purchased the spot in 2014, a local community worker and 26-year Riverside resident called the change one of the "better examples" of neighbourhood redevelopment in the city.

Diane Dyson, a policy researcher at local housing coordinator WoodGreen Community Services, said Streetcar Developments worked with WoodGreen to relocate about 40 tenants of the old hotel, some of whom had lived in the building for years and many who relied on the hotel's low rent to keep a roof over their heads.

A hotel has taken over the iconic 19th-century building at Broadview and Queen that used to house low-income tenants. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"It was a wonderful partnership, to have Streetcar acting really ethically and wanting to protect the tenants that were there," said Dyson.

Dyson says Streetcar paid three months' rent for the relocated tenants in addition to other moving expenses.

The developer did such a laudable job of moving into the neighbourhood that Dyson says she's tracked the project and wants to offer it as a model to the city as it handles other redevelopment projects.

Yet, even though the hotel may have blunted the blow of gentrification for the community, Dyson says it still represents the broader issue of affordable housing in the city.

The 58-room 'boutique' hotel features turntables in the rooms with record collections one guest said he 'actually wanted to play.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"We will continue to see pressure on affordable housing. People will continue to buy homes and improve them and invest in them," Dyson cautioned. 

"People that work as education assistants, who work in coffee shops, who are part of our community, should be able to live in our commmunity."

'Saving' an icon

The building was deemed structurally unsound when Streetcar Developments purchased it in 2014, says the hotel's general manager Murray Henderson.

Henderson credits the restoration with "saving" the building.

Lay agrees. "It was actually collapsing," she said. "You needed somebody with a lot of funds to actually restore the thing. If they didn't come along, it might have been destroyed."

A rooftop terrace surrounds the preserved tower, which Henderson says was the tallest structure in the area until just recently. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

After a community poll indicated the neighbourhood desired a food and hospitality venue, Henderson said, the developer chose to turn the building into a boutique hotel, cafe and restaurant.

"We tried to celebrate the entire past of the building, including Jilly's," said Henderson, pointing out that some of the strip club's brass poles remain intact.

Outside, a rooftop terrace surrounds the old tower, which at the time of construction in the late 19th century was one of the tallest in the east end of the city.

The hotel will open for business on July 27.

With files from Adrian Cheung and Martin Trainor


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