Saturday, August 14, 2010

City Hall's theatre of the absurd: Levy

Sweetheart theatre leases that could cost taxpayers $6.1 million in lost rent will be on the menu at City Hall Thursday.
The deals — which, if approved at the final meeting of the term for the government management committee, will allow all four theatre companies to rent city facilities at a “nominal rate” of $2 per year for as long as 20 (!) years — come even as city officials claim they do not have $600,000 in the combined 2010-2011 operating budgets to keep two local ski hills open for the winter.
Eerily reminiscent of the recently signed 20-year deal with Tuggs Inc. for a monopoly on food and beverage concessions in the Eastern Beaches, all the theatre companies will be required to do is pay for the costs to operate (heat, hydro, etc.) the spaces in question over the next 10 to 20 years.
In the report to committee, the city’s director of real estate services, Joe Casali, and executive director of cultural services, Rita Davies, propose a below-market rent (BMR) lease agreement — at $2 per year — be struck with Opera Atelier for a total of 10 years (a five-year term plus a five-year option to extend) for the 3,168-square feet of space it occupies in St. Lawrence Hall on King St. E.
The report notes if a 10-year lease is granted, the city will be out a total of $221,042 in rent revenue.
The same city officials request the Canadian Stage Company be granted the $2-per-year rent deal for its 26 Berkeley St. facility — but this time for 20 years (a 10-year term plus an option to renew for another 10 years). The report says the previous lease expired on Dec. 31, 2007.
The report says this deal will result in $2.5 million in lost rent revenue over the 20-year period.
The same 20-year rent deal is proposed for Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, which occupies a city-owned facility at 165 Front St., and whose lease expired on April 29, 2006.
The report indicates the city will lose a whopping $3.1 million in rent over the next 20 years.
A second report asks that Clay and Paper Theatre be allowed to jump on the same BMR gravy train — without even the need for a standard proposal — for 3,000 square feet of space it plans to take over at 35 Strachan Ave.
That city building is located in the ward of deputy mayor and mayoralty candidate Joe Pantalone. If approved, the lease will cost the city $261,652 in foregone rent revenue.
All four companies received city-funded Toronto Arts Council grants as well last year. Opera Atelier got $56,500; Canadian Stage Company was given $810,725; Lorraine Kimsa got $295,900 and Clay and Paper Theatre was the recipient of $15,450.
Davies was on vacation Wednesday and Casali did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
However, when asked about the lengthy term (considering the standard BMR lease is five years), manager of cultural affairs Terry Nicholson said all four companies need a minimum of 10-year leases to be able to apply for federal funding for renovation or expansion projects.
He said while Lorraine Kimsa was “getting ready” to apply for federal money for what he thought were renovations, he conceded Canadian Stage Company and Opera Atelier had no such plans in the immediate future.
Asked why the rush when many of the leases have been in a holding pattern for years, Nicholson added the city has been reviewing the BMR policy and the companies have been “asking for renewals all the time.”
With all due respect to Nicholson, I suspect this is simply one more effort by Mayor David Miller’s outgoing lame-duck regime to shore up support from their arts buddies — before the NDPers, hopefully, dance off into the sunset.
It is shameful these kinds of sweetheart deals are being rammed through at the 11th hour.
That’s exactly why Coun. Doug Holyday, a member of the government management committee, will attempt to convince the committee to put over any such decisions until council’s next term.
“This regime has no right to tie a future council to this,” he said Wednesday. “There are a lot of lost opportunity dollars (involved) ... The city has got to get its priorities in line.”

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