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Globe and Mail: At Risk - The Palace Arms Hotel
Arthur White | June 1, 2017

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Last call at the Palace Arms: Developers covet the King West property, but where will its poor tenants go?

From Issue No. 259 | July 11, 2017

The building on a coveted King West intersection is one of the last of its kind: an affordable refuge for poor men. Now it’s up for sale. As developers begin to circle, Arthur White examines what the future holds for the hotel and its tenants

For sale: A derelict long-stay hotel at the corner of King and Strachan, its interior design scheme centred around stucco, ceramic tile and wood panelling. In Room 8, where I’ve booked myself for six nights, there’s a carpet stained with splotches of white and black, a sheet peppered with cigarette burns and two pictures of the Last Supper – one in 3-D. It’s one of the better rooms.

The price: $14-million. The Palace Arms went up for sale last spring, when owner Bernie Tishman decided he’d had enough of the hotel game.

“My family and I have been here for 53 years,” he says. “I think it’s time to retire.”

If the market is any guide, it’s only a matter of time before a new project arrives to energize this sleepy strip of King West. The 125-year-old heritage building sits on one of the last underused sites in an area coveted by condo developers (some of whom have already met with city officials to pitch preliminary ideas). With the city aiming to conserve most of the structure in any sale and redevelopment, this Cinderella of Toronto’s Victorian period might be safe – but things aren’t so clear for the tenants, who say they don’t have anywhere else to go.

The Palace has 91 rooms, and the manager says they’re always about 90 per cent full. The mostly middle-aged men who live here scrape by with rough jobs or disability benefits. More than a few are mentally ill. Many are alcoholics.

“The accommodations are basically for men only,” say the rules, but young women are a common sight, strolling along the hallways, knocking on doors. One calls me “sunshine” and asks if I want to party.

Toronto used to have a wide selection of cheap long-stay hotels. But many, like the Gladstone and the Drake, have since been transformed from dilapidated flophouses into swanky neighbourhood hubs.

Riverside’s New Broadview Hotel, once the home of Jilly’s strip club, looks set to follow. As it stands, the Palace Arms is one of the last of its kind: a refuge for poor men seeking privacy and affordable downtown living.


Development Proposal by Denegri Bessai Studio

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