New Regent Park project aims to help house struggling musicians

A plan is in the works to offer struggling musicians their own building downtown, complete with affordable rental units, rehearsal and recording space, CBC Toronto has learned.

Developer has set aside a lot specifically for a musicians' live-work space

Chris and Charissa Bagan, with their daughter Emmeline, as Charissa prepares to run a youth choir practice in Scarborough Monday. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

A plan is in the works to offer struggling musicians their own building downtown, complete with affordable rental units, rehearsal and recording space, CBC Toronto has learned.

Daniels Corp., which is helping redevelop Regent Park, has set aside a lot for the project on Dundas Street East just east of Sumach. The company says it's already begun designing the building, which would be a 10-storey, 100-unit tower, atop a podium.

The building would be operated as a co-op by Toronto Music City, a not-for-profit group that's working to enhance Toronto's image as a musician-friendly city.

"This project is shovel ready. The land is zoned. We have a willing builder. We're ready to go," Andreas Kalogiannides, executive director of Toronto Music City, told CBC Toronto last week. "It doesn't get any more shovel-ready than this."

He said the project's total cost is about $30-million, and he's trying to persuade the city to contribute about a third of the total. Kalogiannides said he'd also like to see the private sector chip in.

Andreas Kalogiannides, executive director of Toronto Music City, says struggling musicians in the city need their own live-work spaces. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

Toronto Music City has until next spring to raise the money, he said. If it has not materialized by then, Daniels will proceed with a condo project on the site.

A spokesperson for city council's most vocal affordable housing advocate, Coun. Ana Bailao, said she has looked into the project and funding for it is being considered.

Charissa and Chris Bagan say they'd be first in line for a unit, if the project does come to fruition.

Charissa Bagan is artistic director of the Bach Children's Chorus in Scarborough. Her husband Chris is a freelance classical and baroque musician. With an infant and a three-year-old daughter, they say they are only barely making ends meet.

Charissa Bagan works with her student choir at a Scarborough church on Monday. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

"We're all struggling with the same things: affordable housing, places to meet with one another, find understanding for what we do, a voice," Chris Bagan told CBC Toronto Monday. "Just hearing about the concept [of the Regent Park building] would excite virtually anyone involved in music."

And the idea of of affordable housing that targets musicians could have trickle-down benefits for everyone, Charissa Bagan believes.

"When you think of any of the great cities of the world, certainly one unifying factors is arts and culture and specifically music," she said Monday. "To weave that into communities is a breath of life."

Andreas Kalogiannides walks beside the lot that developer Daniels Corp. has set aside for a musicians' hub in the revitalized Regent Park. (Mike Smee/CBC)

News of the musicians' hub in Regent Park comes as the city's music industry advisory council gets set to pitch a similar but much broader-based idea to the economic development committee on Wednesday.

The committee will be discussing a  motion that suggests planning for every shovel-ready affordable housing project in the city should consider the possibility of including space specifically for musicians.

Toronto singer-songwriter Lorraine Segato, who is Regent Park's honorary Artist in Residence, has added her voice to to the push for affordable housing for musicians.

Toronto singer-songwriter Lorraine Segato, founder of the Parachute Club, has been advocating on behalf of musicians who she says are in need of affordable housing. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

She says many musicians live on lower incomes and have trouble renting homes.

"Because a lot of what musicians do is a cash economy, when you go to rent a space you cannot produce a cheque stub, so it appears you're not working," she said last week. "But in fact you are working, so there's an added discrimination there for creative people looking for homes."

On Wednesday afternoon, the economic development committee decided to set aside the idea while staff looks into the feasibility of city-wide musicians' hubs.  If the committee eventually approves the idea, it will still need to be approved by city council.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at