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Princess of Wales Theatre to be torn down for condos, art complex

One of the city’s preeminent impresarios says he plans to tear down the Princess of Wales Theatre and build a complex which would include three condo towers, an art gallery and a new campus for OCAD University.

David Mirvish said the project — a collaboration with architect superstar Frank Gehry — would include the residential space, a free public gallery called the Mirvish Collection, the OCAD grounds and planted terraces.

“I am not building condominiums. I am building three sculptures for people to live in,” Mirvish said at a news conference at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Monday. Gehry also redesigned the AGO.

All of the buildings on the block-and-a-half west of the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street over to John Street will be demolished.

Mirvish stressed that the decision was not easy and that he had devoted time and money to the Princess of Wales Theatre.

“I built a theatre in order to put the best I could into it, and I built the best theatre I could, because I didn’t have a theatre to do Miss Saigon, and I needed a theatre for that purpose,” he said, adding he was not “retreating” from the theatre.

The decision to tear down the theatre meant he was able to give Gehry a “full canvas.”

Gehry said Monday that the city is “yearning” for a Toronto that doesn’t exist anymore and his new buildings will move the city forward.

“Architecture that is outside the norm…gets clobbered,” Gehry said, adding the new complex will bring something different to the city.

This new building won’t be “just sticks,” he added.

The plan includes a memorial to the Princess of Wales Theatre and its namesake, the late Princess Diana.

“The neighbourhood has grown up, just as Toronto has,” Mirvish said over the weekend.  “I believe after almost 50 years of custodianship of these two blocks of urban space, now is the time to take a bold step into the future while preserving the flavour and strengths of our heritage.”

Mirvish — who also owns the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and the Panasonic Theatre — said he would consider building a new theatre if needed.

The project is expected to take three to seven years to complete.

“It’s a very generous contribution to the fabric of the city being proposed here,” Coun. Adam Vaughan told 680News. “We have an obligation to look at it and understand it and make a decision.”

When asked about density concerns with new condo development on King, Vaughan acknowledged the King West area is going through a population “explosion,” but said most residents in the area walk to work.

The population is expected to grow by 137 per cent in the next four years, Vaughan said, but noted the neighbourhood is “more like Manhattan … they way in which people live in these buildings.”

What do you think of the proposal? Let us know in the comments.