Toronto businesses hoping to update storefronts decry $20K charge to cover TTC's power lines

Some Queen Street West businesses hoping to emerge from the pandemic with updated storefronts have been hit with an unexpected $20,000 setback from the Toronto Transit Commission.

Transit agency says it has 'no control' over how much businesses are charged for the work

Rob Sysak is pictured here on Queen Street West where the TTC is requiring businesses to pay $20,000 to cover its live streetcar power lines before any facade improvements can be made. (Edward Gjadel)

Some businesses on Queen Street West hoping to emerge from the pandemic with updated storefronts have been hit with an unexpected $20,000 setback from the Toronto Transit Commission.

The eight businesses and building owners recently banded together to hire a contractor and are ready to refurbish and repair their row of facades near Trinity Bellwoods Park.

They've also been approved for a city grant that will cover half the cost of improvements to masonry, lighting, signage, windows and doors, up to about $12,500, said Robert Sysak, executive director of the West Queen West business improvement area.. 

"It's helping the block look great, bring more people to the area," he said.

The issue is the overhead electric wires that power the TTC's streetcars and run about two metres from the storefronts. After five months of conversations, Sysak said the transit agency has taken a firm line, allowing only one company to do the job and estimating it will cost upwards of $20,000 with no room for negotiation. 

"However, [the $20,000] is split up or shared, it's just another cost they can't afford," Sysak said.

"The TTC corporation looks like they just don't care, honestly, because they basically say, 'Pay the bill or you're on your own.' They don't give you any other option. It's so irritating and frustrating." 

TTC should pay for power lines, business owner says

The city said it's aware of the issue with the TTC wiring and is hoping to find a resolution. 

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said: "We have no control over contractor costs that may be incurred" to meet safety precautions on construction sites.

The transit agency has refused to follow what Toronto Hydro has done in the area, rotating its wires outward instead to give workers space to safely do the construction without businesses incurring the extra cost, Sysak said.

James Yurichuk is among the business owners hoping to make improvements. He's upgrading his Wuxley store's facade and repairing the outside of the building, which has been chipped away by animals and needs to be stabilized. 

"It's going to look great too," he said. "It's going to give it a bit of a facelift on the block."

But he said it's unfair for the TTC to "drop" the extra cost on their project and makes more sense for the agency to take responsibility for its own lines than handing the burden to independently owned business that are struggling to stay afloat. 

While he said his coat business has weathered the COVID-19 lockdowns, he's seen many nearby stores shut down.

"It really looks like a retail graveyard out there." . 


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