Club Bluenote could return to Yonge Street… in a condo

A proposal for a 74-storey mixed-use development at Yonge and Gerard contains a space devoted to the legendary after hours club


A legendary Toronto blues club could see a revival – in a condo.

According to a zoning bylaw amendment application dated July 29, a proposed 74-storey mixed-use development at Yonge and Gerrard will include a space to commemorate Club Bluenote, and possibly a new venue.

The application’s heritage assessment impact, prepared for the developers by heritage architect Philip Goldsmith, outlines a plan to “remember and interpret the Bluenote Club, a club located here in the 1960s, which was important as a venue for the support and presentation blues music in Toronto.

“It is hoped that this space can both interpret the history but also develop as an actual performance venue,” the heritage assessment reads. “The incorporation of this space and interpretation facility will remember and honour an interesting cultural aspect of the mid-20th-century music scene in Toronto.”

The space would be located on the third floor above the building’s lobby.

The new tower, located at 372 Yonge, would contain nearly 3,700 square metres of non-residential space and a total of 406 residential units.

Renderings show a curvaceous, glistening gold tower springing out of the 30s-era art deco building (a designated heritage property) on the southwest corner, which is currently home to the dispensary Meta Cannabis Co. Originally a bank and later the Elephant & Castle pub, it was designed by Canadian architect John M. Lyle.

Four low-rise buildings currently occupy the site between Gerard and Walton. The proposal would retain three commercial heritage buildings at 374, 376 and 378 Yonge, all built in the 1860s. The corner building at 372 Yonge, constructed in 1864, would be replaced.

At 255 metres in height, it would be the third-tallest residential building in Toronto.

The proposal is from Yonge & Gerrard Partners Inc., Turbo-Mac Ltd. and Trimed Investments Inc., with architecture firm DIALOG handling the design.

The original Club Bluenote

Club Bluenote was an after-hours club that existed for around 10 years before closing in 1969. It was later revived twice in Yorkville. A plaque outside the venue’s original location notes that the 75-seat space gave rise to “a unique blend of rock with rhythm and blues that became characteristic of the ‘Toronto Sound.'”

Stevie Wonder, the Righteous Brothers, the Supremes, Shirley Matthews, Jay Jackson and Shawne Jackson all performed at Club Bluenote.

Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Association (DYBIA) chief operating officer Mark Garner came up with the idea to pay tribute to Club Bluenote.

DYBIA, which views music tourism as a key economic driver for the area, installed the plaque, among other initiatives celebrating the area’s musical history.

“If a new development happens to be on any of the legacy places on Yonge Street, then we’re asking for a micro-museum,” says Garner. “But our ask has also been can it become a performance space again?”

Garner is working with the two families that own the addresses on the proposed tower’s site. “We’ve met with the families and stressed the importance of the [club’s] legacy and they’ve said they agree,” he said.

Although the owners of the revived Club Bluenote in Yorkville still maintain a Facebook page devoted to the venue, Garner has approached the family of the original Yonge location’s owner, Al Steiner, to collaborate on the micro-museum. It would be similar to the one above the Shopper’s Drug Mart at Yonge-Dundas Square, which is devoted to the Friar’s Tavern.

Garner believes a live music venue could be viable if the developers opt to sell the space to a prospective club owner rather than lease it.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has also hit the live music sector hard.

Though live music has returned to the Senator and Jazz Bistro during Ontario’s phased reopening, Garner believes venues will need to upgrade livestreaming technology in the event audiences remain reluctant to return after a vaccine is created.

Before and during the pandemic, many local business owners have been calling for commercial tax policy reform as a way to stay afloat.

Commercial property taxes get passed onto tenants and can be as high as rents. The Ontario Municipal Property Assessment Corporation uses the the sale prices of nearby properties to determine the tax rate for a property. In areas with a high level of new condo developments, this results in property tax increases for neighbouring small shops that are not being redeveloped.

Garner notes that a big challenge for struggling venue owners is they rent. If the new Club Bluenote’s proprietor owned the physical space, an increase in monthly property taxes from $9,500 to $12,500, for example, would be more manageable.

NOW has reached out to the developers for further comment.

This story has been updated

@KevinRitchie

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