Residents, city planners and nightclub owners locked in fight over Toronto's waterfront

There could be fireworks Friday at a meeting to discuss a proposal to expand a popular nightclub at Polson Pier on Toronto's eastern waterfront, pitting urban planners and residents against a corporation seeking a new liquor licence for the site.

Powerhouse Corporation's proposal would make the Polson Pier club the city's largest

The owners of Rebel have a applied for a liquor licence that would increase the club's capacity to 8,000 patrons. (CBC News)

There could be fireworks Friday at a meeting to discuss a proposal to expand a popular nightclub at Polson Pier on Toronto's eastern waterfront, pitting urban planners and residents against a corporation seeking a new liquor licence for the site. 

Powerhouse Corporation, owner of Rebel Nightclub, applied for the liquor licence as part of its plan to expand the site's capacity to 8,000 people.

"You couldn't pick a worse time to expand this operation, said Ken Greenberg, an urban planner who helped develop the next phase of Waterfront Toronto' revitalization plan — called Waterfront 2.0  —  which covers an area stretching from Ontario Place to Ashbridges Bay and is funded by $1.5 billion from the federal government and the province.

Granting the licence would interfere with the revitalization effort, which includes "flood proofing to create the new system of parklands and neighbourhoods," Greenberg said. 

Lawyers involved say two dozen witnesses and stakeholders, including Toronto city councillors, are set to testify in front of the province's Licensing Appeals Tribunal, which is evaluating the application. A resolution is not expected until the end of the year. 

Powerhouse's original proposal called for a capacity of 15,000 — a figure that would have transformed the space into the world's largest nightclub. 

The proposed increase in capacity does not sit well with neighbours. Chief among their concerns are access to public transit, safety and noise from loud music, which they say already easily carries across the water. 

Richard Kulis, lawyer for Powerhouse Corporation, said the attempt to increase capacity is "to have more people who are enjoying the place. It's not, certainly in any way, an attempt to increase the noise and disturb people in the area."

Ken Greenberg said expanding the nightclub would run counter to plans for the waterfront. (

Controversial site

The site of Rebel nightclub has been fraught with licensing issues for years. 

Originally the site of The Docks nightclub, the business had its liquor licence revoked in 2006 due to noise inside and outside the venue.

Kulis said the new owners of the building have made renovations to contain noise within the building and added that the club has helped create a better reputation for Toronto. 

Mayor John Tory launched a study into the waterfront's flood protection project in 2015. (Waterfront Toronto)

"[Polson Pier] is not the exclusive purview of the people down there. It's part of the entire city of Toronto and international [visitors]."

Charles Khabouth, a restaurateur and part-owner of Powerhouse, said last year the club deserves "a brand new, clean licence considering that we're a brand new operation."

But Greenberg, who has helped design and plan projects in a number of cities across North America, says the space now occupied by the nightclub has served its purpose as a "transitional" property and should now be phased out in favour of re-development.

"[These industrial spaces] exist for a period of time, sometimes for decades, as in this case," Greenberg said.

"But eventually, this is the new frontier for Toronto ... giving way to more sustainable forms of development"