Popular Gay Village party destination Crews & Tangos could become the city’s latest nightlife venue to bite the dust thanks to a condo development.
The owner of the property running from 506 to 516 Church (at Maitland) is eyeing the site for a mixed-use retail and residential development, according to a post on the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association (CWNA) website.
The property also includes Boutique Bar and a Target parking lot. The owner is real estate firm Graywood Group, which is inviting community groups to preliminary consultations around the future redevelopment.
In a statement, a Graywood rep said the development is in the early planning stages and that Crews & Tangos recently extended its lease for two years.
“While Graywood has reached out to a few community groups to set up preliminary meetings, we are early in the planning process and there are no concrete plans at this moment,” the Graywood spokesperson wrote in an email to NOW. “Graywood has recently signed a two-year lease extension with the operators of Crews & Tangos and we anticipate no changes to their operations during that time.
“It’s our intention to work with our tenants and the community to understand the vision and values of the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, in order to have that feedback inform our development proposal.”
In an interview with NOW, CWNA co-founder and president Connie Langille described the consultations as early steps towards a development proposal that would be submitted to the city later this year.
“Ten years ago a developer wouldn’t think of reaching out to a neighbourhood association and asking them to sit at a table and look at a design or plan and give input and make modifications,” says Langille. “Now it’s becoming the norm.”
The CWNA was formed to provide exactly that kind of input and protect the neighbourhood’s culture. The group was born 10 years ago after a proposal to build a 25-story mix-use, black glass building on Church and Gloucester that Langille refers to as “the Black Death Star.” That proposal, which threatened several heritage buildings, was withdrawn after the community rallied against it.
The community remains wary of developers, especially considering the back and forth with ONE Properties, which proposed a 43-storey tower at the northwest corner of Church and Wellesley in 2017. That was rejected, but subsequent proposals, including rezoning for a 39-storey tower, are still being considered.
“They held three different meetings over three months, beautiful soirees complete with food,” says Langille about the experience with ONE Properties. But she describes the conversations in those meetings as one-directional. According to Langille, ONE Properties gave pre-planned presentations rather than crafting plans shaped by community dialogue.
“We learned from that and we watch out for that,” says Langille. “The developers realized that how they proceeded in the beginning was not the way to go – to show us ‘this is what we’re going to do’ and pretend it was your idea.”
The character of the Village has become a political issue recently as a combination of redevelopment, rising commercial rents and high taxes make it challenging for small businesses to survive.
In January, the area’s councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam introduced a motion at city council to support the retention and growth of independent LGBTQ2S+-owned and operated small businesses in the Village. The general manager of Economic Development and Culture is due to report back with recommendations in the spring.
Graywood, the company behind the upcoming development proposal, is the same firm responsible for the Jac Condos development at Jarvis and Carlton. The Jac Condos should be familiar to Torontonians on Twitter, many of whom mocked the “authentic downtown condo living” advertising campaign, which listed things to do in the 6ix like “watching artsy movies at the Carlton cinema.”
That ad campaign doesn’t mention catching a drag show in the Gay Village, which could potentially lose cultural hot spots thanks to the incoming developments.
“People come from other countries down to the Village,” says Langille, reiterating why the neighbourhood maintains its character and venues. “For some of them it’s just a sense of safety.”
Boutique Bar was named Best Cocktail Bar by NOW readers in 2013. Crews & Tangos is celebrated as Toronto’s premiere drag bar, which hosts nightly drag shows. Many of the city’s popular drag performers cut their teeth on the Crews & Tangos stage, including NOW readers’ favourite drag performer of 2019, Priyanka.
Many on social media have expressed fear that condo developments could reduce the Gay Village to a memory.
“Maybe that’s a tad reactive,” Langille says when I bring up those concerns. “Maybe you underestimate the amount of people who are very invested in keeping the Village the Village. It’s a cultural corridor and there are ways for the city to protect and to honour those kinds of spaces and places. It not something that could be erased and nobody would notice or care.”
With files from Samantha Edwards