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Developers learning heritage buildings can be money-makers: Hume
Christopher Hume | July 25, 2017

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Developers learning heritage buildings can be money-makers: Hume

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/07/25/developers-learning-heritage-buildings-can-be-money-makers-hume.html

From Issue No. 260 | September 11, 2017

The Great Hall at Queen and Dovercourt was a mess until someone recognized its architectural, cultural, social and economic value.

The restored Great Hall includes design details and materials rarely seen these days, such as Crown mouldings, oak floors and hand-painted walls.

The restored Great Hall includes design details and materials rarely seen these days, such as Crown mouldings, oak floors and hand-painted walls. (Dominique van Olm)

Toronto's past may have a future after all. Despite the city's rush to tear down anything that stands in the way of yet another condo tower, developers are beginning to realize there's money to be made in heritage.

The most recent example is the Great Hall, a stately Victorian pile that has presided over the corner of Queen and Dovercourt since 1889. During its 128-year history, the building has housed a YMCA, the Royal Templars of Temperance, the Polish National Union Alliance as well as a gallery, theatre centre and an art school. It has also hosted weddings, diverse cultural events and countless indie rock concerts.

But for decades the Great Hall was a mess. Inside and out it was shabby and rundown, almost derelict. Visitors had to look hard to see beyond the dirt, dust and peeling paint. Though Torontonians have loved the building forever and feel a personal connection to it, until now no one was willing to invest the money needed to restore it and bring it up to modern standards.

Enter Steve Metlitski, a Belarusian immigrant who saw the Great Hall and immediately recognized its architectural, cultural, social and economic value. His firm, Triangle Development, bought the building and spent more than $4 million it to refurbish the west end landmark. His goal, he freely admits, was not just to make a profit, but a profit with honour. In its newest incarnation, it is a rental venue available for everything from classical music and rock concerts to corporate events and parties.

The building wasn't up to code but it had kept its original charm, Metlitski says. It has a lot of personality and character. It's living history; people can feel it when they come. The best use of a real estate asset like the Great Hall is to keep it as is. It's something you couldn't build today.

No doubt about that. Wandering through the urban homogeneity of a city created by bottom-line builders and hapless bureaucrats, it isn't hard to understand what Metlitski saw in the hall. Though the default response in Toronto is to demolish first and beg forgiveness after, as he points out, Sometimes it's about more than money.

Indeed, the search for the sort of experience offered by the Great Hall has grown intense. According to a U.S. study commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Edge Research and the American Express Foundation, millennials are the reason. The report claims that fully 80 per cent of millennials would rather spend money at businesses supporting efforts to preserve and protect buildings, architecture and neighbourhoods over those that dont. It also found that twice as many millennials (52 per cent) choose to shop and eat in historic downtowns . . . and places with historic appeal . . . over malls and planned commercial districts or recently constructed places.

The report reflects what weve seen in cities from Los Angeles to Buffalo to Houston, Trust president and CEO Stephanie Meeks said in a news release, millennials prefer to live, work and play in neighborhoods with historic buildings. The revitalization of many urban communities is being driven in large part by the influx of young people seeking authentic experiences and places with character that are found in historic neighborhoods.

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