Culture hub 401 Richmond could find property tax relief in new tax class

Trinity-Spadina MPP Han Dong says Ontario is ready to create a new tax category that spares cultural hubs from being assessed as commercial properties.

MPP says Ontario is ready to work with city to create new tax category for arts and culture hubs

MPP Han Dong said he hopes a new tax class brings "sustainable relief" to the city's arts and culture hubs.
MPP Han Dong said he hopes a new tax class brings "sustainable relief" to the city's arts and culture hubs. (CBC)

Trinity-Spadina MPP Han Dong says the provincial government is ready to work with Toronto to create a new tax category for non-profit arts and culture organizations.

Dong said inspiration for the concept came in part from a meeting with tenants at 401 Richmond, an arts and culture hub struggling under the load of property taxes that have nearly doubled in five years. 

"The province does not want our cultural community feeling crushed by tax burdens," said Dong, explaining that the new tax class will be somewhere "between residential and commercial."

"It's not fair," he said, "to ask a creative industry… to be looking at a commercial rate. We know the commercial rate is quite high."

Cressy to bring motion 'in coming weeks'

Dong said at Tuesday's press conference the next step is for the city of Toronto to work out the details of the new tax class. 

City councillor Joe Cressy, a long time defender of 401 Richmond, put out a statement shortly after Dong's announcement, saying "the details of this new tax class are already under discussion." 

"In the coming weeks, I will be bringing forward a motion to Toronto city council to formally begin the process of establishing Toronto's new culture and creative property tax sub-class," he wrote. 

After that is done, Dong said the city can present the details to the Ontario's finance ministry. 

401 Richmond under pressure

401 Richmond, a former industrial building, is home to an array of businesses, charities, artist studios and galleries. 

"It's subsidized rent for all of us that are non-profits here. So without that we'd be on the far reaches of the city, inaccessible to artists to be able to access this space," said tenant Jennifer Bhogal. 

Cheryl Kaplan designed this image for 401 Richmond tenant Open Studio. It will be printed, sold and distributed during Nuit Blanche on Sept. 30. (Open Studio / Facebook)

In 2012, building owner urbanspace paid almost $450,000 in property taxes, a bill that has since nearly doubled. Without intervention, the building's taxes are projected to hit almost $1.3 million by 2020. 

Fears that 401 Richmond would shut down under the pressure of spiking taxes prompted community action and political outcry, including a move by the city to grant the building a tax break. 

A petition called "Save 401 Richmond," garnered more than 12,500 signatures.

"Arts and cultural organizations across Toronto are dealing with skyrocketing property assessments based on the flawed 'highest and best use' assessment model," wrote Cressy on Tuesday. 

"Today's news will change that."