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Time is ticking for future Toronto city museum

Last Updated Jan 29, 2020 at 10:28 am EDT

Old City Hall. Image courtesy Josef Fazio.

Revitalizing Old City Hall into a museum for the City of Toronto is a recommendation that looks great on paper, but putting it into practice might be more of a struggle than anticipated. City staff were supposed to report back to council in mid-2019 with refined plans and cost estimates but that hasn’t happened yet.

At least one historian with a vested interest says it may take more money and time than originally thought and this has many asking whether this plan can happen at all.

Provincial and municipal courts are anticipated to vacate the building in 2022, leaving lots of open space available.

In Jan. 2018, council recommended using Old City Hall for some ambitious purposes, inlcuding building a public library branch, a wedding chamber and a new Toronto museum.

Councillors, including Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam, have been big supporters of the plan for a new museum along with Toronto’s historical and tourism community.

The museum would cover about 110,000 square feet of the 406,000 square-foot building and the library would take up a 25,000 square feet.

Paul Federico with the Toronto Historical Association said he has been paying close attention to the planning process.

“I understand from earlier reports that 60 per cent of the building would be a public access museum, another portion would be for a community hub where groups like mine would be able to have office space and then the rest would be retail support,” Federico said. “This is a multi-year project that could last 20-25 years before it’s open to the public. It’s one thing to just say we’re going to spend X number of dollars and fix it.”

Andrew Weir with Tourism Toronto said the location of Old City Hall would be the perfect place for a museum as tourists are increasingly looking to learn about the place that they are going, but agrees that this process may take some time to unfold.

“There’s a number of different steps required. There’s some time left before the building turns over but what’s important is that we’re having this conversation and we’re talking about a museum,” said Weir.

Federico is also keeping the faith. “I’m hopeful. But I’m not sure I’ll see it in my lifetime,” he added.

Councillor Stephen Holyday, who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame Board of Directors, has been an outspoken critic of the plans.

He says he doesn’t think the city is in the best position to run a facility such as a museum.

“Who’s going to pay a lot of money to go and see Toronto-centric exhibits?,” he said. “You might get a few people but I’m not sure it will get the numbers to sustain it and have a proper museum attraction for people to come into the city to look at it.”

CityNews reached out to the City of Toronto about the report and spokesperson Bruce Hawkins said in an email staff will be reporting back to City Council in the Spring of 2020 with updates on future uses and tenant options for the building.

He added it was “too early” to make any other comments.