Toronto

Toronto could turn a vacant downtown building into a new live music venue

The city of Toronto may turn a vacant building it owns on Queen Street West into a temporary live music venue for new local artists.

Queen Street West venue would focus on Black, Indigenous, and racialized artists, city says

It's OK*, a non-profit organization, would operate the new venue, pictured here, and lease it from the city for two years. If council approves the plan, It's OK* could be operating the space in June. (Jessica Ng/CBC)

Toronto may be getting a temporary music venue for new local artists, with the city considering transforming a vacant downtown building into a live concert venue and rehearsal space.

The venue at 468 Queen Street West would be focused on Black, Indigenous, and racialized artists, according to Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York.

"Lots of live music venues have been priced out of the city. We're trying to creatively use city real estate to keep them here," Cressy said in an interview on Tuesday.

A non-profit organization called It's OK* would operate the new venue and lease it from the city for two years. If council approves the plan, It's OK* could be operating the space by June.

Cressy said the city's live music scene was struggling before the pandemic and its problems have deepened in the last two years.

He said Queen Street West is a "music corridor" and it's important to have accessible spaces for new and emerging artists to develop their skills.

"This is one step in building a more livable city and live music is critical to just that," he said.

Over the long term, Cressy said the city is redeveloping a parking lot, a laneway and two commercial buildings on Queen Street West into new affordable housing, a park and cultural venue. The city wants to make use of the properties before the space is redeveloped, he said.

City council to consider proposal on April 6

The city's general government and licensing committee will vote on the proposal on March 22. City council is expected to consider it on April 6.

In a report, city staff say the city acquired the building in late 2021 with the aim of creating a public park that would encompass the building as well as 464 - 466 Queen Street West and a portion of 15 Denison Ave. The park is to be developed after the lease with It's OK* expires in 2024.

"The proposed lease will allow for an interim use of the property until the City is ready to proceed with development of the new park," the report reads.

Said Yassin, founder and director of It's OK*, says: 'Spaces like this in some shape or form do exist, but they're not led by people who look like us.' (Jessica Ng/CBC)

Non-profit envisions 'community centre for creatives'

Said Yassin, founder and director of It's OK*, said the plan for the space is to turn into a multidisciplinary arts hub that would include a performance and rehearsal space, coworking and a small gallery space. It's OK* works with Black, Indigenous, and racialized musicians, promoters and presenters to develop talent. 

"Spaces like this in some shape or form do exist, but they're not led by people who look like us," Yassin said.

Chris Wilson, a DJ and It's OK* board member, said the space holds a lot of potential and he envisions a "community centre for creatives." The city needs such spaces, he added.

"It's super important. Every conversation that we would have with an individual who works within in the creative realm, who works in the arts industry, the thing that they would continually bring up is that they don't have the opportunities to collaborate. The spaces for that to happen don't exist. To have a space where that can happen is essential," Wilson said.

Proposal is 'creative city-building,' councillor says

Coun. Paul Ainslie, who represents Ward 24, Scarborough-Guildwood and who chairs the city's general government and licensing committee, supports the proposal.

"This is exactly the kind of creative city-building thinking that Toronto needs more of as we recover from the pandemic," Ainslie said in the release.

"Partnering with ambitious and innovative arts organizations to leverage city-owned properties is a vital tool for rebuilding our economy."

With files from Jessica Ng

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