Emergency bylaws passed against Toronto studio sale in bid to save 'Hollywood North'

Toronto city council has passed two emergency bylaws and is considering buying land in order to prevent the sale of a film studio to a big-box store company in the Port Lands.

The bylaws will restrict any changes to Showline Studios for one year as city studies sale

City council is hoping to keep more studios in Toronto to help the growing film industry. (Cinespace FIlm Studios)

Toronto city council passed two emergency bylaws on Wednesday that prevent the sale of a longtime film studio to businesses not involved in the film industry for up to a year. The decision, the city says, is meant to protect an industry that contributes $2 billion to the local economy. 

The city is also considering buying the plot of land Showline Studios currently sits on. 

"We can't afford to lose any square footage for our film studios, our film industry — and to lose production to other places," said Coun. Paula Fletcher, who spearheaded the bylaws with Coun. David Shiner. 

Showline Studios had been operating in the Port Lands for years and has been sold to an anonymous buyer. CBC News contacted Showline for comment but was refused details on when the sale happened or who the buyer is. 

Coun. Paula Fletcher helped push emergency bylaws through that temporarily prevents the sale and development of Showline Studios into big-box stores. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

Fletcher, who sits on the Toronto Film, Television and Digital Media Board, said production companies have received one-month notices to leave the studio. She believes the new buyers are "big box stores or an auto mall." 

The emergency bylaws state the land can't be developed for those uses. 

Fletcher said the estimated cost of the land is "confidential," and said the city treasurer will study the area and report back on the possibility of the city buying the land altogether.

Keeping 'Hollywood North'

Members of Toronto's film industry, such as Jonathan Ahee, president of Unifor Nabet 700-M — the union for film technicians — has called on the city to intervene in the sale to preserve so-called "Hollywood North."

Ahee said losing the studio would be "devastating to the industry because the mayor has been committed and said he wants to encourage an expansion beyond the $2.1 billion mark that we hit."

"In order to do that, you need to have an expansion of studio space, not a contraction of it."

TIFF is but one part of the city's burgeoning $2 billion film industry. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Mayor John Tory has described the film industry as a "major economic driver," an employer of thousands of people and one of the city's three biggest money-makers in addition to food and finance. 

Jim Mirkopoulos, owner of Cinespace Studios, has done his part to grow the industry over the years. During the Toronto International Film Festival, he announced the company was planning to open two new film studios in Etobicoke

Despite his vested interest in keeping the film industry in Toronto, Mirkopoulos said he's surprised by the city's intervention in the sale of the property. 

Jim Mirkopoulos, owner of Cinespace Studios, wants the city to continue supporting infrastructure for the film industry. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

"Surprised but pleasantly's great that [the city] has taken these steps to be very proactive to help our city's infrastructure stay strong."

Mirkopoulos added that while Toronto's film industry continues to grow, it's not a given that production companies will want to continue making films and television shows if the city doesn't continue to invest. 

"This is a $2 billion dollar industry," he said. "And if you're actively invested in it, then you have to take in stride when the city makes the decision to preserve infrastructure."

With files from CBC Toronto's Shannon Martin and Adrian Cheung