Saturday, May 31, 2014

The 25th anniversary of Rogers Centre / Toronto's Sky Dome

TORONTO - Much has been written about the early years of Toronto’s SkyDome.

With the 25th anniversary of the Dome’s official opening fast approaching I thought that rather than rehashing some of those well-known stories who better to ask to tell us a few of the little-known stories than good friend Dave Garrick. When Dave was general manager of the CNE he hired me to pull together the Exhibition’s 100th anniversary (somehow I managed to turn that into a two year event.) In 1975 Dave left the CNE moving east to run the CN Tower, then under construction. From there he went to the new stadium project. Here are a few of his “inside” memories.


On June 3rd, SkyDome will turn 25 years old and after that amount of time some “secrets” have to be let out of the bag.

Two years before the opening of the dome the first panel of the roof (the one that makes a 180 degree turn) was completed and we wanted to test it to see if it indeed worked but we did not want the media to know about the trial in case it did not function. This retractable roof was first of its kind in the world and there was tremendous hype about it. So on the coldest night in February at 3 a.m. in the depths of a very cold morning the “Open” button was pushed and, voila, it turned perfectly, even shoving snow out of its track, to the north end of the stadium. The media never knew.

In the spring of 1987 we held a major naming of the dome contest and the prize would be two tickets to every event in the stadium … for life. Over 150,000 ballots were submitted with some of the oddest suggestions. Names like Condome (to honour NHL hockey czar and Toronto Maple Leaf founder Connie Smythe, I think), Davis Dome (in recognition of Bill Davis, Ontario’s premier from 1971-1985), Dome on the Range and so on.

A ‘blue ribbon’ panel was assembled and from all the names submitted they pre-selected The Dome, Harbour Dome, Tower Dome and SkyDome. Wally Crouter, CFRB radio’s 50-year veteran morning man took the four names and used them as if he was on the air announcing as follows: “It is the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series here at ...” (And he inserted each semi-finalist name). When he got to “Here at SkyDome” the winner was perfectly obvious — SkyDome it was.

Now it was time to select the winner of the contest so I put all the SkyDome submissions (of which there were over 2,000) in a mail bag and took them up to Queen’s Park where a cement truck, with the barrel turning, was waiting.

I put all the submissions in the barrel, backed the truck to where David Peterson, then-premier of Ontario, was standing on a ladder ready to remove the winning entry.

In a stage whisper, Peterson leaned over to me and said, “I hope the winner is from outside of Toronto and I retorted that I hoped it was an old geezer as the prize was tickets for life.” The premier reached in and with a twinkle in his eye announced that the winner was Kellie Watson from Wallaceburg, a young lady in her mid-20s. A win-win for Peterson.

Incidentally, the way the contest was set up we could not check to see if anyone had registered the name beforehand, and, sure enough the next day we received a call from six lawyers from a major law firm who, while on vacation had trademarked most of the possible names with SkyDome being one of them. That afternoon, we visited the firm and the lawyers laid out their demands which included box seats, the use of a SkyBox suite for X number of games and several other perks. We advised that we would be back to them shortly. On the way out of their building, I ran into the office manager, whom I happened to know, and I asked him for a list of his clients.

The SkyDome had 30 major partners who paid $5 million each to receive certain promotional rights to the building. Sure enough, among the law firm’s clients were four partners in SkyDome. Once our partners were contacted they in turn called the law firm and asked for the naming rights to be turned over to us. Within hours the six lawyers had folded like a deck of cards and assigned their SkyDome name to the corporation.

If anyone has ever applied for a major building permit there are always clauses which the bureaucrats add as fodder and upon signing you say to yourself we can get out of those at a later date but right now we desperately need the permit to commence with the project.

Timing was of the essence as there was a penalty clause with the Blue Jays that the stadium had to be ready by June 5, 1989.

The clause that we thought the City would do away with was one that stated that we had to spend $1 million educating the public how to get to the stadium.

We thought this was a no-brainer as the location was right under the CN Tower. However, the City would not bend and they wanted us to commit to the education process.

I called the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and asked them what it would cost to buy up the transit system for one month noting that our riders would be in the evenings and weekends so they would not affect the peak rush hour ridership.

The quote was $600,000 for the month and during that period the public transit ridership soared to 57%.

When the promotion ended the ridership slipped to 20%. Nevertheless, the City was happy and we had saved $400,000 from our original commitment.

The key part of the opening ceremonies was the anticipated operation of the unique roof.

Even though there was a torrential rain storm that evening, on cue we opened the roof and, of course, half the crowd was soaked.

I called Sketchley Cleaners and asked if they would clean any garments worn that night if the customer showed a ticket stub.

Over 7,000 took advantage of the offer including one gentleman who took his drapes in to be cleaned swearing that is what he was wearing that evening.

There are many more stories like the couple making love in the hotel bedroom. Arsenio Hall on his TV show that evening said. “If my wife makes any noise in bed I get excited — can you imagine 50,000 doing the wave?”

The SkyDome has not aged, if fact, it looks even better today than when it first opened. Now, all we need are those wonderful World Series to happen again. Happy 25th and you don’t look your age.
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Four shot in Rexdale

TORONTO - Four people were injured when a sunny Friday evening was interrupted by gunfire in several crowded Rexdale locations — including a hospital.

The gun violence, which may be gang-related, began when a group of men in a vehicle pulled into a housing complex on Mount Olive Dr., north of Kipling and Finch Aves., around 6:40 p.m. and opened fire, Toronto Police said.

“It was a brazen attack,” Det. Jason Leitch said Saturday at 23 Division.

The complex was teeming with families, including woman and young children playing in a nearby playground, when “several shots were fired,” he said.

Three people, all in their 20s, were injured in the shooting and two victims were taken to hospital by ambulance.

The third victim was driven to a nearby hospital by a “bystander” but the shooters were hot on their heels and followed the pair all the way into the parking of the medical facility near Hwy. 27 and Finch Ave. W.

“At Etobicoke General, right outside of the emergency department, more shots rang out,” Leitch said. “And as a result, the gentleman that transported the initial victim to the hospital was then shot and became a victim himself.”

The fourth victim was hit in his hip as he helped the other wounded man into the hospital, he said.

“Once again, that in itself is a brazen attack,” Leitch said. “People in an emergency room, again young children and families waiting to be seen by a doctor and a shooting occurs right outside.”

The gunfire prompted a lockdown at Etobicoke’s William Osler hospital. And Sunnybrook hospital, which was treating the only critically injured victim, was also locked down as a precaution.

“I’ve never seen a shooting at a hospital,” Leitch said. “It is a unique situation.”

The victim at Sunnybrook, also in his 20s, suffered life-threatening injuries but is now expected to survive.

The other three victims have all been treated and released from hospital.

Guns were also fired at a townhouse complex near Martin Grove Rd. and Finch Ave. W. Friday evening, an incident police believe was tied to the other two shootings but nobody was hurt in that shooting.

Four men who fled in two vehicles remain on the loose but no further description was immediately available.

Police maintained a presence in Rexdale Saturday — at the housing complexes and at the hospital — hoping to prevent further bloodshed and quell the fears of residents.

Anyone with information in these shootings should call police at 416-808-2300 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chanel Beckenlehner: U of T grad crowned Miss Universe Canada

TORONTO - The newly crowned Miss Universe Canada wants to spend her reigning year working for and educating children.

Caledon’s Chanel Beckenlehner, 25, was given this year’s title on last Saturday at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts where 64 women competed to represent Canada.

“I was drawn to this industry and am passionate not only to work as a title holder but also for the organization,” Beckenlehner said.

Right after Beckenlehner’s win — and in her first interview as Miss Universe Canada — she told the Toronto Sun how excited she was to be a SUNshine Girl.

“I think the exposure will be awesome. It will create awareness for the pageant and help give a voice to my opinions. I’m thankful for the opportunity,” she said.

Beckenlehner says the pageant isn’t just about being a “pretty girl” but being a role model for education, sports and being a role model in the community.

One of her favorite parts of the pageant is its charitable support for kids, like SOS Children’s Villages Canada — which builds homes internationally for abandoned and orphaned children — and Operation Smile, which provides cleft surgery to children in third-world countries to help transform their lives.

Beckenlehner who is used to working with charities — says she is proud this year’s pageant raised $130,000 for children’s causes.

“The opportunities we have in Canada I want to share and give to other kids in the world,” said Beckenlehner, who is planning a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua with Operation Smile.

“This is what I want to do wherever I go throughout this whole year, now that I will have such a big voice,” she said.

While attending the University of Toronto for four years to become a political science specialist, she also took a course in HIV/AIDS and plans to take that knowledge into schools and promote awareness and prevention.

“It will be an awareness campaign to educate young people to make responsible decisions. Without your health you have nothing,” she said, adding her work will include an anti-bullying campaign. “I want to increase the peace and communication with teachers and students by developing connections and give students to opportunities to seek guidance.”

While she enjoys a variety of hobbies such as golf, fashion, traveling and the arts, she has a special place in her heart for horses and riding dressage in particular and hopes to ride internationally.

“The will to win is not worth anything without the daily commitment to do what it takes to prepare to win,” Beckenlehner said, who rides six days a week. “It is my passion. I would love to compete in the Olympics for Canada.”

The date and location for the 2014 Miss Universe pageant will be announced this fall.

Beckenlehner says she can’t wait to come back to the Sun for an interview and photo session after a win at Miss Universe.
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Little Mosque's Zaib Shaikh becomes Toronto's new film czar

TORONTO - Zaib Shaikh is now starring as the City of Toronto’s film commissioner.

Councillor Michael Thompson — the chairman of the city’s economic development committee — introduced Shaikh as the new film commissioner/entertainment industries director on Thursday at City Hall.

Shaikh is known for his starring role in the CBC show Little Mosque on the Prairie but is also a writer, director and producer.

“I know you were probably expecting Drake,” Shaikh said after Thompson introduced him.

The Toronto born actor said his goal in the new job is to turn the city into a “global media playground.”

“I’m here because I’m proud of the city and I’m looking forward to the world being proud of us too,” Shaikh said.

“We have to make Toronto not only the number one city in Canada but the number one city in the world, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of the kind of diverse, global media package that we’re talking about not just in film and television but everywhere.”

City officials confirmed Shaikh will be earning an annual salary of $163,000.

Thompson described Shaikh as “extremely passionate and also committed to his hometown of Toronto.

“He will be an excellent ambassador and representative for the great city of Toronto,” Thompson said.

Thursday’s announcement included a performance by Canadian rapper Maestro Fresh Wes. He performed two songs including his 1989 hit, Let Your Backbone Slide.

A day earlier, Councillor Shelley Carroll said she was impressed with the selection.

“It is some kick-ass, out of the box thinking and I am very pleased,” Carroll said Wednesday.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

50 arrested in raids across Toronto

TORONTO - Police arrested 50 people early Wednesday morning in a raid which targeted two rival gangs.

Acting Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders said two operations, known as Project RX and Project Battery, have been ongoing for nearly a year. Officers focused on the Sic Thugs and Asian Assassinz, he said.

“Both gangs are allegedly rival gangs and each have been involved in a series of shootings that have occurred in the city of Toronto,” Saunders said.

Police from across the province raided 53 addresses in and outside of the city around 5 a.m. They seized 10 guns, cocaine, heroin and marijuana during the raids. Two cocaine presses were also seized.

“These two rival gangs are incredibly ruthless,” said Saunders.

Those arrested face a variety of charges which include armed robbery, human trafficking and weapons and drug offences.

Police would not name any of the accused gangsters or even disclose the courthouses where the alleged offenders will appear, citing security concerns.

In addition to Toronto force, officers from Peel, York, Durham, Waterloo, Guelph, Windsor, London, Hamilton, Belleville, South Simcoe, Halton, Brantford, Niagara and the RCMP helped execute the warrants.

“They have put a significant dent (in) the violence that has occurred in city,” said Saunders.

Saunders said the unique thing about the case is the level of sophistication of both gangs. Typically, gangsters centre their activities in a small geographic location but members of these gangs committed crimes across the GTA, he said.

“Now we’re starting to see these gangs have that violence ... but they also have a much stronger level of sophistication, have a much stronger level of organization and that’s something to be concerned with at this point.”

Both gangs have been linked to high-profile shootings in recent years at busy malls. Last April, an internal dispute is believed to have resulted in the murder of a member of the Asian Assassins at Yorkdale Mall. In June 2012, a three men with suspected links to the Sic Thugs were killed in a shooting at the Eaton Centre.

Dozens of locations were raided across the GTA, including a new condo development on Western Battery Rd. in upscale Liberty Village.

The neighbourhood was quiet hours after the raids with no sign of police presence. But on the 12th floor, an apartment door was smashed just above the deadbolt lock and the doorway was covered in yellow caution tape.

Jordan, who lives next door, said he saw police swarming around the building around 6:30 a.m. as he was on his way to the gym.

“I saw a tactical team in this big SUV-type vehicle that looked like it was a moving van,” he said. “There were officers in the lobby and all over the place. It’s pretty surprising this type of stuff is going on around here.”

Jordan said while the raid was shocking, the high-profile gang shootings need police attention.

“It’s one thing when these guys are shooting it out in dark alleys,” he said. “It’s completely another when they duke it out in a crowded mall.”

Another man who lives next door to the building said drugs and crime can be found anywhere in the city.

“I’m not surprised,” he said after learning of the raid. “You hear about it, even in this area. You find it all over the city now.”


The Asian Assassinz' history in Toronto spans more than a decade and involves a long trail of carnage and crime.

The street gang's traditional turf has been the Vanauley Walk area, near Spadina and Dundas Sts. The gang was most recently in the news when one of its members, 23-year-old Michael Nguyen, was ambushed and killed "execution style" outside of Yorkdale Mall over Easter weekend last year.

Nguyen and another 24-year-old man who was wounded, were targeted by two gunmen in the parking lot of the shopping centre, Toronto Police said at the time.

"They left the mall together and were walking to a parked car when the shooting began," Det. Rob North said at a press conference last year.

Nguyen was initially shot and tried to run for his life, but a gunman chased him and finished the job, hitting him with as many as eight shots, North said.

The other man, also an Asian Assassinz member, was shot as he fled but survived.

Another member of the gang, Qoheleth Chong, 23, was murdered in November 2012.

Nguyen and Chong were involved in a brutal home invasion in 2005 when they were young teens. They drove from Toronto to Windsor with two other gang members, forced their way into a home they believed contained a stash of cash and held the occupants -- a man and his girlfriend -- at gunpoint.

The woman, Brandi Liles, was stabbed during the home invasion, which ended with Windsor Police arresting the four Asian Assassinz.

Nguyen and Chong were sentenced as adults to five years in prison in 2008, but after being credited for time served on a two-for-one basis, they were freed after two years and seven months.

In 2004, eight members of the gang were busted after a series of jewelry store robberies along Spadina. One of the shops was hit for more than $80,000. All of the members were under 18 at the time.

The gang would storm in wearing masks. One would pull out a gun and order the victims to the floor, while the others grabbed cash, jewelry and cellphones.

"They've been terrorizing the Asian business community for months," Hold-up Squad Det. Rick Downs said at the time.


Members of the Sic Thugs, a violent downtown street gang, were at the centre of a terrifying 2012 shootout in the Eaton Centre.

The Regent Park gang bangers were at the heart of the incident that left two dead and five wounded, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head.

Ahmed Hassan, 24, and Nixon "Nix" Nirmalendran, 22, were killed and the alleged gunman, Christopher Husbands, 23, faces two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder. It's believed the shooting happened as retaliation for a beating Husbands received from the two men, both fellow gang members.

As reported by the Toronto Sun's Chris Doucette in 2012, all three were hardened criminals with a history of alleged involvement in the drug trade.

At the time of the shooting, Hassan was a fugitive wanted for serious crimes in Fort McMurray, Alta., and Husbands was under house arrest for a sex assault charge. Nirmalendran, who died in hospital nine days after he was shot four times in the mall mayhem, also had a long history of run-ins with the law.

Members of the now-defunct Point Blank Soldiers, a Regent Park gang that preceded the Sic Thugs, were also tied to the 2005 Boxing Day shooting that cost 15-year-old Jane Creba her life and left numerous others wounded on Yonge St. just north of the Eaton Centre.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Porn star Nikki Benz, is running for mayor of Toronto

TORONTO - Just what we need, another mayor from Etobicoke.

Ever do crack? I ask candidate Nikki Benz. It’s an automatic question these days.

“No. No. I don’t even smoke cigarettes,” she tells me, tossing a honey-blond tress. You could swim in those hazel eyes.

“When it comes to that kind of stuff,” she says, “my life is not very exciting.”

Nikki’s job is another thing. Unless you’ve been comatose or away at bible camp, you know Nikki Benz is among the world’s top porn stars.

She divides her time between shooting Bra Busters 4 and the like in L.A. and her mom’s place in Etobicoke, where she grew up not far from Rob Ford’s spread.

So she is eligible for Toronto politics. In fact, her career makes her highly qualified, since it, too, involves screwing people while huffing and puffing and pretending to smile.

“At least I’m honest and transparent. No hidden agenda,” says Ms Benz.

Noon Wednesday, she is to sashay down to City Hall and officially launch her campaign for mayor.

Already, she has a snappy slogan — Trade in Your Ford for a Benz — and the beginnings of a platform.

She dropped by the Sun to outline some of her positions, politically speaking.

Her transit policy is a bit all-over-the-map, but whose isn’t? Generally, she favours cheaper modes, so LRT in the suburbs. But she would fast-track the relief line. Frankly, she says “relief line” in a much more compelling way than John Tory.

I can tell you Toronto’s congestion was not eased by her photo shoot on King St. with our Craig Robertson. For once, no one cursed or flipped the bird.

This is overreaching a mayor’s powers, but Ms Benz proposes making National Masturbation Day a civic holiday. I know, I know, I hear you, every day should be National Masturbation Day, but Benz sees it as a way to soothe Toronto’s chronic angst.

Also, since we’re already Hollywood North, Nikki would make us Debbie Does Dallas North.

“My industry is one of the biggest in the world,” she says. “It could do for Toronto what it’s done for L.A. in jobs, business and taxes.”

In fact, Nikki Benz is a conglomerate unto herself, with busy web business, a slew of pornos for the Brazzers brand, feature dances at strip joints, and T-shirts.

She planned on law at York U and pole-danced to raise tuition, then found strippers can make more than lawyers. No ditzy blond., our Nikki.

She insists she’s running because “I love my hometown,” but the publicity sure won’t hurt her porn market share.

At the Sun she’s in black pumps and a summery dress that is simple but bursting to be set freeeee.

“Everyone expects me to be in lingerie 24 hours a day,” she says.

Perhaps this explains why she ran away with my poll on her other campaign slogan, Toronto’s Sexiest Mayoral Candidate.

At press time, she led with 44.1% of votes to Karen Stintz’s 18.9% and Ravishing Rob Ford’s 12.5%

Sketchy the Clown was fourth and closing fast at 11.6%. If it counted, and we had proportional voting, Sketchy the Clown might be budget chief. Or maybe he already is.

But polls are for strippers. What do we gain by replacing an (alleged) crack smoker with a (no-ifs-about-it) porn star?

“There’s notoriety and stigma to both, don’t get me wrong,” says Benz. “But porn is legal. Crack isn’t.

“(Porn) doesn’t cloud your mind for decisions or making statements. And there’ll be no surprises with me. Everything you want to know is online, as long as you’re 18.”

I can think of two big reasons not to write her off.

First, she has racked up, so to speak, more electoral victories than John Tory, having been Penthouse Pet of the Year in 2011.

Also, she has 642,000 Twitter followers, swamping the world’s most infamous mayor, who has 161,000, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (470,000) and Grit pretty boy Justin Trudeau (370,000).

I bet Nikki Benz makes prime minister before Rob Ford does.
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Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly defends $20,700 Niagara Falls business trip

TORONTO - Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly defended Tuesday his taxpayer-funded trip to Niagara Falls for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference.

Kelly is heading to the event this week along with eight other city councillors, the Toronto Sun has learned. The city clerk’s office estimates the trip will cost $20,700.

“The city is not sending anyone, the deputy mayor has made a decision to attend the FCM and is doing so because I think it is important to have the head of council at a very important meeting,” Kelly said.

“The other councillors make the decision for themselves.”

When the Sun pointed out taxpayers are footing the bill, Kelly described it as “investing.”

“If you take a look at the returns for that investment over the years, I think it is worthwhile,” he said.

“Toronto is the nation’s number one city and we’re expected to lead and you can’t lead unless you’re involved.”

According to the city, Kelly will be joined at the FCM annual conference, which begins Friday, by Councillors Shelley Carroll, Mike Layton, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Giorgio Mammoliti, Pam McConnell, Ron Moeser, Michael Thompson and Kristyn Wong-Tam.

Last year, the city sent 18 councillors to the FCM annual meeting in Vancouver, B.C.

At the time, Mayor Rob Ford raged against the trip.
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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Woodbine Park goes to the dogs for Woofstock

TORONTO - It’s not often you get to see, literally, a walking hot dog.

But Schneider, an eight-year-old dachshund, was showing off his ketchup and mustard by wearing a hot dog costume at Woofstock Saturday, along with hundreds of other pooches.

“He knows 13 tricks, including dance, high-five, roll over,” said Schneider’s owner Shari Wing, 41. “This is our second Woofstock. He loves to hang out and be social.”

This is the 11th year the festival devoted to all things canine has come to Toronto, but organizers said with the event growing each year by the thousands, they had to move the venue from St. Lawrence Market to Woodbine Park.

The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Dozens of vendors in attendance have everything from doggy strollers to pet food to high-end hipster clothing for four-legged companions.

PiP My Pet, a Vancouver-based company that launched a lost pet locator app for Android and iPhone said the program uses face-recognition technology to help track down lost or stolen pets.

“We use an ‘amber alert’ system, so if you have your pet registered with us, both cats and dogs, if you lose them, you can go in, activate an alert,” said Philip Rooyakkers, the CEO of the company.

“Our customer service team will reach, gather more information and broadcast that out to a 10 to 15-mile radius to every vet, animal-control agency, pushed through to Facebook and Twitter and Craigslist, so many (pertinent) people see it.”

Since launching about 18 weeks ago, the company has seen a couple dozen amber alerts issued with a 40% success rate.

Over at a photo booth where owners can pose with their pooches, Simone Noel, 79, smiled at the camera beside her regal-looking Dachshund, Daisy, covered from head to tail with flowers.

“She won best dressed in 2012,” Noel said. “She won $800. This is my 11th year. I love to dress my dog and enter the contests. I chose the flowers because it’s May.”

Mayoral candidates Karen Stintz and Olivia Chow also took park in the dog day afternoon.

Stintz arrived just after 2:45 p.m. with her one-year-old Pug, Gus, and three-year-old standard poodle, Oscar.

“It’s nice to get the dogs out to the park,” Stintz said, adding it was her first time attending the event.

Mayoral contender Olivia Chow was also at Woofstock as one of her nine scheduled campaign stops Saturday. She said she had three dogs during her life -- two of them named Bella, the first of which was hit by a car.

“I’m basically here to play with dogs,” she laughed. “This is like dog heaven. It’s good for the economy because think about the money that changed hands here and people are having so much fun.”
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Toronto road named after legendary Leaf Johnny Bower

TORONTO - Patika Ave. will now always be known as a hockey street.

The road in the Lawrence Ave. W. and Jane St. area was renamed Saturday as Johnny Bower Blvd. in honour of the legendary former goaltender of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lived in the neighbourhood in the 1960s.

“I love the Stanley Cup, but I can put this in second spot, for sure,” said Bower, 89, at the morning ceremony, surrounded by at least 30 neighbours and family.

“This is a better ovation than I used to get at Maple Leaf Gardens.”

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and Councillor Frances Nunziata presented the hockey hero with a plaque and a copy of the street sign with his name on it and declared May 24 as Johnny Bower Day in Toronto.

“Anchoring (the Leafs in the ‘60s) was Johnny Bower,” Kelly said. “As a kid who played hockey for a number of years in Toronto as a goalie, I know how important that position is. And you were the rock, Johnny, on which the Leafs built their team so successfully during those years.”

During Bower’s hockey career from 1945 to 1970, the Leafs won four Stanley Cups. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976 and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

“I think (the current Leafs team) is on the right path,” Bower said. “They got a lot of young players and they’ve got to give them a lot of time.”

His wife Nancy said it was a honour to see her husband’s name on the street sign.

“I think it’s beautiful because Patika Ave. was a part of his early career in Toronto,” she said. “It brings back a lot of old memories. Some of my old neighbours are here.”

Dave Bolender, who lived in the area the same time the Bowers resided at 16 Patika Ave., said he and his twin brother were friends with Bower’s son Johnny Jr. The elder Bower used to assume the goalie position in the driveway and the brothers took shots on him.

“I think this is a great honour,” he said. “I also loved being at the Stanley Cup parade in 1968 -- the last time they won the Cup.”

Robert Heath, 55, who has lived on this street for 48 year, said the old Bower residence was also the former home of ex-Leafs defenceman Jim Morrison.

“My father took a picture of me and Johnny back then,” he said. “He was just a regular guy. You’d always see him around the neighbourhood. I remember the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup and Ron Ellis scored that goal -- all the houses in the neighbourhood jumped.”
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Sony Centre renovation balloons to $40M

TORONTO - Councillors came out Friday slamming the Sony Centre redevelopment as a "money pit."

Auditor General Jeff Griffiths found the cost of the ongoing theatre redevelopment will balloon from $28.5 million to likely more than $40 million by the time its done.

"This has quite clearly become a money pit," Councillor David Shiner told the Sony Centre board of directors on Friday as they met to discuss the report.

"It has cost the city way too much for the renovations ... It has gone off the rails tremendously."

Along with confirming that renovation costs have exceeded the estimates, Griffiths' report also details that the majority of contracts weren't awarded through an open tender, records for the construction project were incomplete, some financial transactions "have not been appropriately accounted for," and policies and procedures at the Sony Centre are "inadequate."

The actual cost of the renovation has already hit $38.5 million, with $4 million in work still to complete.

Part of the project has been funded with around $19 million from the sale of land and development density for the L-Tower behind the Sony Centre and $11 million came in negotiated payments from the developer.

Griffiths confirmed that after that cash is taken into account, taxpayers will be on the hook for around $10 million, including the $4 million to finish the redevelopment and a $6.6-million long-term interest-bearing loan from the city to fund the project.

Sony Centre CEO Dan Brambilla, who is slated to retire soon, refused to stop and answer reporters' questions when he left the meeting.

Given the issues raised in his report, Griffiths acknowledged Toronto residents should be upset.

"Yeah, I think they have every reason to be upset," he said.

Griffiths admitted he rolled his eyes "a little" when Brambilla told the board the redevelopment wouldn't cost taxpayers' a dime.

He said he was "astounded" at the response from Sony Centre staff that they didn't keep records because no one told them about the city's record-keeping procedures.

"That isn't a response. Everybody knows that you retain documentation," Griffiths said. "Quite frankly, a lot of (the paperwork) was missing."

Councillor Pam McConnell stressed to the board that the audit is a "very serious" matter.

"It is not a usual matter and it is going to the audit committee (next) Wednesday," McConnell said.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Woman driving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's Caddy nabbed on drunk driving

Mayor Rob Ford is still in rehab but his SUV has been impounded for an alleged impaired driving incident involving a Muskoka Lakes Township woman.

Sources confirm to the Toronto Sun that Lee Anne McRobb, the woman allegedly driving drunk in the mayor’s black Cadillac Escalade alone on Tuesday afternoon, was in rehab treatment at GreeneStone Muskoka with Ford.

McRobb wouldn’t tell reporters in Gravenhurst Wednesday at Northland Towing and Recovery why she was behind the wheel of the mayor-mobile.

“It doesn’t matter. That’s for me to know,” McRobb said in a video posted by MooseFM’s Carly Verhoeven. “You guys don’t need to know.”

In two videos posted by MooseFM on YouTube, McRobb mentions she was in GreeneStone and left something in Ford’s room. She goes on to confirm she left the rehab facility.

“I was but I’m out of there,” she said.

At times in the videos, McRobb denies she knows Ford.

“Everybody knows him, he’s on the news,” McRobb said.

Asked if she cares for Ford, McRobb shrugged.

“I’m not going to comment on this right now, I’m a little emotional,” she said.

McRobb could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A number listed for McRobb in Mactier was disconnected and a Facebook page with the same name was no longer public on Wednesday night.

A press release from the OPP said Bracebridge detachment officers made the stop around 2:34 p.m. after responding to a traffic complaint.

“The vehicle, a black Cadillac Escalade, was stopped by Bracebridge OPP officers on Muskoka Road 169 at Butterfly Road in Muskoka Lakes Township, where the female driver and lone occupant was found to be impaired by alcohol,” the release stated.

OPP Sgt. Pierre Chamberland confirmed the vehicle has been impounded for seven days.

McRobb, 36, has been charged with impaired driving and driving with over 80 mgs. She’s scheduled to appear in court in Bracebridge on June 17.

Ford has been on a leave of absence since April 30 and in rehab for his admitted alcohol problem.

He told the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington a few days into his treatment that “rehab is amazing.” Ford was spotted with his Escalade in Muskoka last Friday posing for photos and dropping off a suit for dry cleaning.

Councillor Doug Ford said he wasn’t aware of the incident with his brother’s SUV but confirmed the mayor is still in rehab in Muskoka.

“It’s news to me,” Ford said about the SUV being impounded.

“I don’t think it is good news anyone driving with DUI, I think it is terrible but they said (the mayor) wasn’t in the car.”

“We’ll find out what is going on,” he added.

Dennis Morris, the mayor’s lawyer, said he hadn’t heard McRobb’s name before.

“I have not spoken to him, he’s in rehab as far as I’m concerned,” Morris said of his client.

“There is no allegation (Ford) was behind the wheel — that’s good news,” he added.
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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Councillors move to ban all parking in Toronto's parks

Councillors want to turf any exemptions that allow motorists to park on grass for special events in Toronto’s parks.

In a 4-2 vote, members of the city’s parks and environment committee voted to ban drivers from leaving cars on the grass in parks during for-profit events, starting in 2015, and to keep them off greenspace during all other events by 2016.

A fight is expected over the issue next month at city council.

The committee had been looking at setting rules for when to permit parking on Toronto’s parkland when Councillor Gord Perks pushed for the outright ban.

“At the end of the day, the damage an automobile does on soft grass and other vegetation is unacceptable,” Perks insisted.

Councillor Jaye Robinson called the vote “disappointing” and “ridiculous.”

“I consider myself an environmentalist but when you don’t allow for some exemptions to the rule, that’s way too heavy-handed for a city,” Robinson said.

She had been fighting to ensure that about 200 drivers could leave their cars in a park during an annual three-hour event put on by the Canadian Film Centre.

“I hope that council will see the light and turn this over,” Robinson said.

The Don Valley West (Ward 25) councillor said “sometimes downtown councillors don’t understand how it works north of Bloor.”

“In these neighbourhoods we don’t have all sorts of parking lots and Green P parking or parking lots,” Robinson said. “I think this is real Draconian step backward.”
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Monday, May 19, 2014

Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti speaks out against all-ages shows

Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is saying “I told you so” after 29 overindulging youth were sent to hospital from a Rogers Centre all-ages event over the weekend.

Toronto paramedics had to transport partygoers who fell ill to various degrees after consuming alcohol or drugs during a sold-out concert by Swedish DJ Avicii.

Mammoliti has long been a critic of all-ages raves.

“The same promoter (of the Avicii concert) wants to bring 8,000 to Exhibition Place for raves,” Mammoliti said, adding such events have to be stopped.

Toronto EMS were called to the Rogers Centre because the private paramedics hired to cover the event were overwhelmed by the number of people who needed to be hospitalized.

“At the next meeting of city council I will be requesting a report from staff on the cost of emergency services and hospital ward beds related to this event,” Mammoliti said.

He estimated the cost of dealing with those who fell ill at the show — for an overnight stay at an emergency ward, plus the tab for EMS care — is be more than $100,000.

He argued it’s irresponsible to allow children to attend all ages-events, Mammoliti said.
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Friday, May 16, 2014

Rob Ford denounced at Toronto City Hall Pride flag ceremony

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford wasn’t missed at Friday’s Pride flag raising at City Hall but he was slammed.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and almost a dozen councillors helped Toronto PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) raise the rainbow flag on the roof of City Hall for Saturday’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The annual event is often plagued by drama around Ford’s attendance — he missed the event the first year of his term but did make a surprise appearance there in 2012 and returned last year on the first day of his crack video scandal.

Ford — who has refused to march in Toronto’s Pride parade — has been caught on tape making homophobic remarks and made headlines earlier this year when he objected to the Pride flag being raised at City Hall to draw attention to gay rights during the Sochi Olympics.

PFLAG president Irene Miller delivered a fiery speech decrying Ford’s stance against the flag and comments he has made.

“During Sochi in February this year while cities around the world and across Canada including at our legislature were flying the rainbow flag, Mayor Ford was repeatedly demanding it be taken down,” Miller said. “The flag is more than a piece of fabric, it really truly means something to all who recognize the struggles that go together in those colours to make it a symbol of hope, support, love, acceptance. It is more than just a piece of cloth and should never, never be disrespected in such a horrible way.”

Miller went on to argue homophobia cannot not be allowed to spread.

“If we permit it, we promote it and we will not, can not let that happen,” she said. “There are still bigots, there are still those who hate, there are still those who throw out racial slurs, cultural epithets … and that has to stop.”

Miller, who is stepping down as president this year, said she wanted to comment on Ford’s actions because she’s been “disappointed” in the revelations.

“With recently hearing about comments made against or towards Councillor (Karen) Stintz, I thought that was inexcusable and I think we all should feel insulted by that,” Miller said. “I felt it warranted being addressed.”

She pointed out Ford has never apologized for his homophobic comments.

“A full and frank honest apology would go a long way,” Miller said.

Councillor Janet Davis said the flag raising was “symbolic of the transition that’s occurred at City Hall.

“Today we are unambiguously celebrating that the city is an inclusive and welcoming one that is willing to stand, raise the Pride flag without question and declare to the world that we stand firm against transphobia and homophobia,” Davis said. “With Rob Ford gone, that pall that he cast over this event is gone.”
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'When he called me a Gino boy he was high on something': Mammoliti on Ford

TORONTO - Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said he believes Mayor Rob Ford was on drugs when he called him a “Gino boy” more than a decade ago.

In a lengthy podcast interview posted online Thursday with former 102.1 the Edge host Dean Blundell, Mammoliti goes on to claim Ford — a city councillor at the time he hurled the slur back in March 2002 — was crying and in the “fetal position” in then Mayor Mel Lastman’s office after the incident.

Ford — who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, buying illegal drugs and having a problem with alcohol — has been on leave since April 30 and his family claims he has been in rehab for his drinking since May 1.

“I don’t know the real Rob Ford,” Mammoliti told Blundell. “I think he has been an addict for quite some time. I’ve always known that he had an addiction.”

Mammoliti has been a Ford ally during this term of council despite clashing with the mayor during past council terms including the “Gino boy” incident.

“When he called me a Gino boy he was high on something,” Mammoliti said. “My view today is I think it was consistent to the crack or some of the harder stuff.”

After he complained to city officials and the media about the “Gino boy” comment, Mammoliti claimed Ford “started crying” and went to Lastman’s office.

“Lastman told me he was pretty out of control in his office and moved to a fetal position in the office,” Mammoliti said. “Nobody has ever known this story except Mel Lastman.”

But Lastman denied that Ford was in the fetal position.

“He was never in a curled, in a fetal position with anything,” Lastman told the Toronto Sun Friday.

But Lastman wouldn’t say if Ford was crying or not.

“It was a private discussion, I can’t discuss it with you,” he said.

Mammoliti said he’s speaking about Ford publicly now because the mayor confessed to him that he has a “bingeing problem.”

“He also admitted to me, ‘When I binge I do stupid things,’” Mammoliti said. “Our mayor has an issue, he’s got to get well.”

The York West (Ward 7) councillor also claimed he once spoke to an “addict” who lived in his ward that claimed to have information on Ford — who was still a councillor at the time.

“(He) gave me details in terms of where I could find him and how high he would be,” Mammoliti said. “He wanted $5,000 for him to give me that information.”

Mammoliti said he didn’t pay for the information.

“I’m not that type of guy, I just won’t do that stuff,” he said.

The veteran councillor also claimed he knows councillors who smoke marijuana but he refused to name them.

“You can just tell by the way they act at times,” Mammoliti said.

He denied he uses drugs.

“I don’t have to worry about myself, you can test my blood anytime you want to see how many drugs are in there or take my snippets of hair,” Mammoliti said. “At the end of the day, I don’t have to worry about that but there are members of council that do.”
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

'Misogynistic, bigoted, homophobic, rude': Karen Stintz on Rob Ford

TORONTO - Mayoral candidate Karen Stintz dropped the gloves Thursday when describing Mayor Rob Ford to an audience of women.

Stintz argued Ford isn’t the only one that can tout a political record on the campaign trail and pointed out she has a record at City Hall of voting to outsource garbage and get union contracts under control.

“The one thing I don’t have is a belief system that is misogynistic, bigoted, homophobic, rude,” Stintz said in her keynote speech to the Women’s Executive Network. “I don’t break the law on a regular basis.”

The former TTC chairman kept slamming Ford.

“I look at this mayor and I think, you know what, it is not good enough that you have a track record of achievement of things you didn’t actually do on your own,” Stintz said. “You’re not the role model for my children, you don’t represent me, I don’t think you’ve earned the right to continue to be our mayor.”

After the speech, Stintz stood by her comments about Ford — who is currently on a leave to deal with his admitted problem with alcohol.

“He’s said those things,” she said. “He’s said homophobic, bigoted, racist, intolerant comments.

“Irrespective of any treatment that he seeks for his addictions, he still holds those values and I don’t believe those are Toronto’s values.”

Stintz also took shots at rival candidates John Tory and Olivia Chow during her speech.

She accused Tory of claiming her policy initiatives as his own.

“I like to joke if you want to know what John Tory’s next policy announcement is, go visit my website,” Stintz said.

As for Chow, Stintz dismissed her as the “NDP candidate.”

“My strong view is that if we elect Olivia Chow she is the NDP candidate, she represents the NDP view and we will go back to the days of David Miller and I just don’t think that’s where the city is at right now,” Stintz said.

She argued people want “responsibility and accountability and a government that works.

“That’s why I’m running for mayor,” Stintz said.

Doug Ford — the mayor’s campaign manager — declined to comment Thursday on Stintz’s remarks about his brother.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gardiner construction isn't working for drivers

TORONTO - In between the stalled and stranded chaos is a fenced-in strip of stillness, quiet and tranquillity.

It looks like The Twilight Zone.

But it’s the Gardiner Expwy. dead zone.

From about the Humber River to Strachan Ave., the middle lanes have been taken over by construction crews, leaving frustrated motorists travelling east or west in a perpetual state of rush-hour hell.

You can imagine how it is when rush hour actually hits.

The morning version is palatable on some levels because there is normally a beehive of construction activity that offers some quantifiable excuse as to why one’s foot is on the brake for more than seven kilometres of bumper-to-bumper madness.

But the snail’s-pace afternoon commute home or the trip in from the west end for a Blue Jays game or a night on the town is a different story.

Drivers are met with what looks like a ghost town in the construction zone.

After 5 p.m. all that is noticeable is how little is going on as drivers struggle their way slowly through bottleneck.

In the dug-up construction area, tractors and portable toilettes sit unused — and they don’t offer sanctuary for those mired in gridlock either, since there is a massive fence between them and relief.

There is no debate that the up-to-three-year, $75-million resurfacing and repair project is needed.

But what is not lost on those caught in this daily nightmare — commutes an hour longer than they already were — is that while the traveller is not home in time for supper, the work crews are.

They are already having a cold one and not even thinking about being stuck on the Gardiner. There is something wrong with this picture.

Well, at least they will have this all done for the 2015 Pan Am Games to help with the influx of traffic.

Oops. This project is not going to be completed until December 2016 at the earliest.

How is it the city can undertake a project that essentially has 9-5 hours while everybody else is now losing valuable family time?

There are so many other questions.

Why not have these crews rotate to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day? Why not have more crews working? Perhaps something similar to how they built the Chunnel under the English Channel, where crews worked both ends until they met in the middle.

Why are there so many road closures on alternative routes while the Gardiner project is underway? Why not look for any way that makes it not just easier for just the construction crews to get home to their families but for the taxpayers, too?

The reality on the Gardiner right now is just not acceptable. It’s not OK how this has worked out and it needs to be addressed.

This is a crisis and it just can’t stay like this. You better believe this will be an election issue. So many people cannot bear the thought of three more years of this craziness.

It’s especially galling when you are driving by a shut-down work area. There has got to be a way to get this done faster.

Use the 30-million taxpayer dollars allotted for the renovation of the soccer stadium on this instead, if it would help move things along.

“The best thing is to work in three eight-hour shifts and get this thing done sooner than later,” Murtaza Haider, associate dean of research at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, told Toronto Sun reporter Jenny Yuen. “There’s no need for repairs to take this long.”

I put my first e-mail into the city about these concerns at 2:17 p.m. and initially received indication someone was going to get back to explain.

The last correspondence of the day said they were “trying to get Michael D’Andrea to call you. He is executive director — engineering and construction services.”

This was at about 4 p.m. He did not call.

Maybe it was quitting time.
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jilly's strip club sold to developer

TORONTO - Some new movers and shakers are taking over Jilly’s adult entertainment club.

Streetcar Developments has purchased the 121-year-old landmark Broadview Hotel, at Broadview Ave. and Queen St. E., and the new vision is leaning towards a mixed-use space that may be similar to the Gladstone Hotel, which was transformed from a flop house to an upscale bar/restaurant, art space and boutique hotel.

“Although rooted in loft development, Streetcar does not see this building as a residential condominium project. We are in the early stages of planning, but our focus is to revive this building to a landmark everyone in the area can be proud of,” Streetcar’s CEO Les Mallins said Tuesday.

The strip club’s lease expired and the bar and boarding house tenants will soon be packing up so the city can complete an emergency work order to address structural issues for the new development.

Jilly’s management said Tuesday they will relocate, but it was too soon to say where.

Dancers making their way into the club for the afternoon shows said they would only give interviews for money.

A sign on the entrance door warned of communicable diseases one could obtain by touching and spells out how such conduct between patrons and dancers is forbidden by a municipal bylaw.

Queen St. E. has a seedy past with a history of drugs and outlaw biker clubhouses.

The gentrification of the hotel has been a long time coming, said James McKinnon, owner of an adjacent burger joint known as the Double D, which isn’t referring to a bra cup size but a reference to his grandfather who was known as Dangerous Dan.

“Everyone thinks they (Jilly’s) were a big problem but they had bouncers. Without them, I think the neighbourhood will lose some of its character,” McKinnon said.

“If they put in a high-end development I won’t be able to afford the rent (for the restaurant), but I own a house in the neighbourhood. If then value increases, that’s great.”

The development isn’t great news for the 40 residents of the hotel as some fear they will become homeless once they receive their 60-day eviction notice.

Two-year tenant Charles Doucette says he would happily continue living with the bed bugs, vermin, rotting interior and stench rather than face life on the street.

“I’ll have no place. I don’t know where to go to find another place,” disability recipient Doucette said in his decaying room as a guard dog growled in the neighbouring room.

“I’m afraid and I don’t know what will happen to my cat, Silence.”

Bruce Keefe and his wife pay $900 a month for a musty and decrepit room that goes black if they try to turn on a microwave.

“I’ve heard rumours (of eviction) but after three years here I’ll be happy to go,” Keefe said. “I’m not sad to move but I don’t know where. I’d like to get out of the east end.”

Hotel manager Mel Osolky says the building isn’t a rat’s nest but needs some “tender loving care.”

“It has always been the bad boy of the neighbourhood and needs a thorough clean up. We have done our best here but it’s time to move for a new development because it’s showing it’s age,” said Osolky.

“It’s a good question where the tenants will go. We have all walks of life here and take in people from social services.”

Mallins says the city is aware the tenants will be vacating.

“The tenants vary from hours to years … they will find alternative (arrangement),” Mallins said.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose ward includes the building, applauded the sale of the Broadview.

“I gather there is a lot of work to do on the old doll to get it fixed up,” Fletcher said.

“It is good for the neighbourhood. I do have to make sure that the people who are living there with very affordable rents have a place to go and are being looked after.”

Fletcher said a report on designating the building as a heritage site — which she requested last year — will be coming out in June.

“It’s a significant, significant building,” she said.
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Adam Vaughan leaving City Hall Tuesday

TORONTO - Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan will officially resign his seat Tuesday to run for federal office.

Vaughan, who won the Liberal nomination for the Trinity-Spadina byelection to replace Olivia Chow, made his departure official Sunday. He will be leaving City Hall after nearly eight years on council.

“It has been an incredible privilege to serve the people of Ward 20 for two terms, but it’s time Toronto had someone in Ottawa who works with us, instead of ignoring the problems that are unique to Canada’s biggest cities,” he said in a statement.

Joe Cressy will try to retain Chow’s former seat for the NDP.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Sunday voters will go to the polls June 30 in the byelection, as well as three others across Canada.

Another Toronto riding, Scarborough-Agincourt, is up for grabs after Liberal Jim Karygiannis stepped down to run for a seat on city council.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Toronto bets $2B on housing project makeover of Regent Park

It’s the dank, stinking stairwells of Toronto’s Regent Park housing project that for residents like Ines Garcia represent the failures of the past, and now, as they’re being demolished, hope for the future.

Garcia, a 48-year-old single mother of four, has been forced to shield her children from strangers shooting up heroin on the urine-soaked steps. One time, the Ecuadorean immigrant mustered the courage to tell a man smoking crack to do it elsewhere. He replied, “Bitch, you wanna die?” Garcia’s eyes teared up at the memory.

If all goes according to plan, Garcia, who makes less than $10,000 ($9,174) a year juggling two jobs, soon won’t have to climb the stairs to her subsidized apartment. She’ll have elevators in a new unit in a new Regent Park, part of North America’s largest social-housing redevelopment.

“Everything there is brand new, beautiful,” Garcia says of the $2 billion transformation taking place within sight of her 50-year-old apartment, where black mold is creeping down her bathroom wall. Every day, she passes the tidy red-brick townhouses and glass towers going up nearby, dreaming of a home where her children can grow up to fulfill their own dreams.

As its population swells to 17,000 from 7,500, the new Regent Park will mix renters in subsidized apartments with owners of market-priced condominiums and integrate the area into the city by adding through-streets, chain stores and amenities such as swimming pools. The project is a public-private experiment in housing that will provide a test case for cities from New York to San Francisco struggling to offer affordable homes as property prices soar.


T oronto’s average home price reached a record $547,786 in March, a 79-percent increase from a decade ago. The city of 2.8 million is tied with New York as the 14th least affordable of 85 major housing markets ranked by Belleville, Illinois-based researcher Demographia, with Hong Kong at No.1. There are about 168,000 people waiting for subsidized housing in the city where Toronto Community Housing, is the second-largest social-housing landlord after New York.

Built in the 1940s to house World War II veterans and immigrants, Regent Park was laid out as a so-called garden city -- an enclosed neighborhood with no major through-streets and plenty of parks. The design was supposed to make the streets safer for pedestrians. Instead, it cut the area off from the city. As the area deteriorated, businesses fled and drug dealers, prostitutes, and gangs, including the Bloods, moved in.


“The ideal is you won’t be able to tell where Regent Park was -- it will simply blend in,” said Ken Greenberg, principal at Greenberg Consultants Inc. and the lead urban planner on Regent Park’s revitalization. “It’s important to work on housing, but not in isolation. If you just rebuild, you’re going to get a more genteel form of ghettoization, the same social isolation, the same lack of employment, the same lack of education opportunities.”

Greenberg, who’s worked on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park and Boston’s “Big Dig” project, said he’s already sharing lessons learned in Regent Park with other projects he’s consulting on. At the Barry Farm redevelopment in Southeast Washington, D.C., he’s suggesting the community reconnect streets to the rest of the city.

Bringing together lower-income and middle-class residents “reduces acute crime in the short-term but in the longer term it depends on how well it’s managed,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at The Urban Institute, an economic and social policy organization, by phone from Washington, D.C. The question is, “Can you keep those higher-income residents there?”


With construction starting in 2005 and now about one-third complete, a new neighborhood of glass towers, brick townhouses and neatly laid out parks and streets is taking shape.

Eight condo towers are up so far, with five under construction and 22 planned, according to Daniels Corp., the developer that’s partnering with the city on the project. About 15 of these, or 1,848 units, plus an additional three towers TCH built nearby, will be for the original residents of Regent Park who pay rents based on their income.

The rest, about 5,250 units and 20 towers, will be for buyers in an area that’s never had market-priced condominiums before. The development also includes about 27 blocks of townhouses for sale and rental.

The nine-story One Cole, the first building to on the market, sold about half its units on the first day, according to Daniels.


The neighborhood’s amenities, designed to keep kids busy and off the streets, include an aquatic centre, a 60,000 square- foot cultural center, and the Paintbox Bistro, serving steak frites and espresso. An athletic facility will host the Toronto Raptors basketball team and outdoor ovens and community gardens are planned.

At 69 acres (28 hectares) in central Toronto and a planned 7,500 units when it’s completed around 2025, the stakes are high and everyone from the private developer, to the city, to the residents is greeting it with a mixture of anxiety and hope.

“When I first drove through the new Regent Park, I didn’t even know it was social housing,” said Eugene Jones, 58, former chief executive officer of TCH. “I thought, ‘Damn. This is the most amazing thing -- it’s not being done anywhere in the world like this.’” The interim CEO, Greg Spearn, took over last month.

It’s a far cry from the 1980s when crack began to infiltrate the neighborhood, said Diane MacLean, a community activist who raised three children in Regent Park.

“People would shoot up in the stairwell,” she said. “It changed the community in terms of crime rates, guns, homicides, assaults, drug addiction -- all that skyrocketed.”


The transition to a new community hasn’t been easy. While every current resident is guaranteed a replacement TCH unit, it may not be in Regent Park. Residents, many of whom have kids in local schools and work nearby, may also be relocated kilometres away for the several-year wait between demolishing units and getting new ones. That makes Garcia, who is facing at least five-year wait for her new place, worry about getting back in.

“Revitalizing Regent Park should have been called ’kicking out residents of Regent Park,’” Garcia said. “That’s the fear from a lot of the residents.”

TCH says it’s learned from mistakes made in the first phase when residents, many of whom didn’t speak English, weren’t clear on the process and sometimes signed away their right to return. The agency is now sending in more staff to explain the procedure.


In the first and second phases of the project, the city helped fund the construction of market units and received a premium from sales, which they reinvested in the community and other units in its portfolio. In the third phase, which started construction this spring, TCH is selling the land to Daniels, reducing its exposure to the housing market, but also giving up prime downtown property.

“We took a huge risk investing in this community,” Mitchell Cohen, president of Daniels, said at the Regent Park sales office. “Government alone can’t do something like this. The private sector alone can’t do something like this.”

TCH and Daniels declined to say how much they each contributed to the $2 billion total cost and TCH declined to say how much of the profit from units and land sold is reinvested into the community, citing the information is proprietary. The partnership allowed the agency to save at least 30 percent on phases two and three, TCH said.


“ There needs to be employment opportunities at the root of this,” Cohen, 63, said. “For many, many decades there was no grocery store, no coffee shop, no bank and no economic activity within Regent Park. People weren’t earning money here and weren’t spending money here. That is not a healthy community.”

Current residents have average annual income of about $20,000, half that of the rest of Toronto, according to Dixon Hall, a local charity. About 20 percent of the neighborhood’s households report no income at all.

Daniels is busy putting streets and sidewalks back and drawing businesses to the area again.

Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s second-largest lender, Tim Hortons Inc., its largest doughnut-and-coffee chain, and grocer Sobeys Inc. each opened a location on-site, hiring locally in an area which was a commercial wasteland before.

Regent Park “needed believers -- from businesses, the city and the neighborhood itself,” Jennifer Tory, head of personal and commercial banking at the Toronto-based Royal Bank, said in an e-mail. “Four years on, our business has grown.”


In order for it to be successful, Regent Park needs people like Vanessa Yu too -- young professionals or empty nesters willing to put money on a bet that Regent Park won’t slide back into the crime-ridden neighborhood it was.

The 33 year-old moved two years ago into the 13th floor penthouse unit at One Park West, one of the first towers to go up. She bought her 800-square-foot home for under $375,000.

Her Chinese parents in Nova Scotia fear for her safety. She’s had two bikes stolen and was accosted by a man one night in January as she went out to get some food. A streetcar driver who saw the attack stopped and the man fled.

While the experience left her shaken, she has no plans to sell and move away.

“I know what I was getting into moving here, I work in the community,” Yu said last month from the sofa in one of three community rooms in the building. “There are way too many upsides to living here but I know it isn’t for everyone.”


The crime has already declined, said Farzad Ghotbi, a 12- year Toronto police veteran whose first day on the force was in Regent Park.

“We were getting more calls 12 years ago even though there were less people and the area was smaller,” said Ghotbi, who’s been working the beat ever since. “Do we still have shootings? Yes, we do. But compared to what it was before, it’s a tremendous improvement.”

Reports of crime, not including traffic violations, dropped 12 percent in 2012 from the start of the revitalization in 2005 in Regent Park and the surrounding area, latest Toronto Police data show. Crimes include manslaughter, sexual assault, and breaking and entering.

Ibrahim Hussein’s family was one of the first to get a house in the new development.

“The house we’re living in now, poor people shouldn’t be living there,” said the 29-year-old who works for TCH cleaning and maintaining new condo buildings. “It’s for rich people. The backyard is so big, we don’t know what to do with it.”


His house, with a neat front yard and jumbo-sized windows, faces a line of market-rate houses across the street. The two sides don’t communicate much. When his mother has bananas left over from baking, she takes them to her neighbours on either side, not across the street.

Community worker MacLean’s biggest fear is that in 10 years Regent Park looks like every other part of Toronto instead of the place where single mothers can leave their kids with neighbours, people swap food at well-attended events, and residents form a single voice on community issues.

“Affluent members of the community will have the wealth and the power around planning and the future,” said MacLean, who moved one block away from the neighborhood after her rising income disqualified her for subsidized housing. “This is true entrenched gentrification. If you understand gentrification, it does mean the wealthy win.”

For her part, Garcia has already started shedding items in anticipation of her move to a new home. An old mop handle stands near the door, one of the many things she needs to throw out before leaving.

“I saw one of the new homes and said ’Oh my God! It’s beautiful!’” she said. “The first thing I asked is ’does everything work?’ There’s so much light. There’s so much life there.”
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