Toronto

City hoping to buy massive Hearn generating station on Toronto's waterfront - but can it?

​The city is hoping to buy the sprawling Port Lands site sold off for $16 million last year by the Ontario Power Generation, but it's not clear if there is any interest to sell.

Ontario Power Generation sold off site for $16M to film company in 2018

Built in the post World War Two boom period to power a rapidly expanding Toronto, the Hearn opened in 1951 and was decommissioned in 1983. It has been re-purposed as a TV, film location and venue for cultural events. (David Donnelly/CBC)

​The city is hoping to buy the Hearn generating station, a sprawling Port Lands site sold off for $16 million last year by Ontario Power Generation.

But it's not clear if there is any interest to sell from purchaser Studios of America — the former long-term tenant of the 400,000-square-foot plant, which has been out of operation since 1983 and has since been used for film shoots and major art events.

On Thursday, council voted 20-2 to explore purchasing the site. Both Mayor John Tory and Coun. Paula Fletcher, whose ward houses the massive building and surrounding property, were in favour.

"The Hearn is a landmark building," said Fletcher on Friday. "It's a strategic asset for Toronto's waterfront."

Tory also called council's direction the "responsible thing for the city to do."

Both previously expressed concern the city wasn't consulted before the controversial sale last November. At the time, the provincial NDP called for an independent appraisal of the deal, as other similar plants were being sold for far more money.

However, a spokesperson for Ontario Power Generation — a commercial company wholly owned by the province — said the market value was tied to the land being contaminated, and was determined by an independent external evaluation.

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      City should 'tread carefully'

      Coun. Stephen Holyday, one of only two members who voted against exploring the purchase on Thursday, said later the city should "tread carefully."

      "I am leery... about purchasing fixer-upper buildings and the draw in resources those could entail," he said.

      CBC Toronto reached out to several spokespeople for Studios of America but has not yet received a response, and it's not clear if the company has any interest in selling the site it just purchased two months ago after leasing it since 2002.

      That lease, originally set to last until 2041, came with a provision that the company had a first right of purchase on the Hearn.

      "Had Studios decided to not purchase the property, the property would have been put up for sale in a competitive sale process," notes the Ontario Power Generation's website.

      But could the city simply expropriate the heritage landmark? Fletcher said that's not yet clear.

      There are also several conditions attached to the 2018 sale that could complicate the city's goals, including a restriction on any transfers of the property for three years.

      The sale also includes restrictions on any demolition or alteration of the property's heritage characteristics without prior approval of the city and a ban on the use of the property for residential or other sensitive uses for 15 years.

      Even so, Fletcher stressed the potential for the site, which she feels could be explored through an international design competition if the city managed to bring it into the public realm.

      About the Author

      Lauren Pelley

      City Hall reporter

      Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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