Hugh’s Room Live, a long-running live music venue in the city’s west end, has announced it must vacate its current home at 2261 Dundas West on March 31.
“We tried very hard to secure a new lease on affordable terms with our current landlord but regrettably we could not come to an agreement. It is time to move on,” said Brian Iler, the chair of the board that governs Hugh’s Room Live, in a release.
The venue has operated as a registered charity since 2017, when a group of volunteers banded together and raised $150,000 to save the venue from closure and re-open it as a not-for-profit. (Hugh’s Room Live is officially a separate entity from the previous Hugh’s Room incarnation, which ran from 2001 to 2017).
“We are deeply saddened by this turn of events but we are firmly focused on securing a new home where this important cultural icon can continue to thrive.”
Hugh’s Room Live staff seemed optimistic for the venue’s future, citing their expanded bookings calendar and improved financial performance.
The venue’s management has been searching for a new home, with the ultimate goal being “a permanent home which will free us from the pressure of rising rents,” Iler says.
“The Toronto real estate market is hot, and rent escalations are impacting music venues across the city. It is important to recognize that just as Roy Thomson Hall and Massey Hall are critical to the cultural life of Toronto, so too are smaller music venues that offer an alternative listening experience.”
The venue currently has shows booked through the fall. Hugh’s Room Live staff said they would do everything in their power to go through with existing bookings, and would provide info to artists and to ticket holders as new venues are found.
In a phone conversation with NOW, Iler says the venue signed a three-year lease in 2017 and has been working intensively to find a deal to renew it.
“Fundamentally we’ve got market forces pushing the rent higher than we can realistically see ourselves paying,” he says. “Property tax went up 59 per cent over the last three years. It’s not feasible for us to generate enough revenue for what we do to pay those.”
Ilers says the team at Hugh’s Room Live is already looking for a new home, both for the short term and long term. They’ve looked at several potential spaces in the last week, with acoustics and the ability to serve food being major deciding factors.
The eventual goal is still to find a permanent home, which can be tricky for a not-for-profit like Hugh’s Room during the current affordability crisis.
“We’re looking at sites that don’t have those same market pressures,” he says. “We’re also talking to the city about potential locations that are city-owned.” (Incidentally, the city is currently exploring a pilot project with that exact function.)
Ilers points to the Wychwood Barns model, in which a city-owned property is leased to a non-profit to run as a cultural, community hub. The most ideal, he says, is St. Patrick’s Market, a vacant building at Queen and St. Patrick that the city recently won control over after it spent years as an unsuccessful food hall. The city is still in the process of figuring out what to do with the space and it won’t be available for a long time, if at all, but Hugh’s Room Live is in early talks.
In the meantime, not only does Hugh’s Room Live not intend to cancel their upcoming shows, they’re going to continue booking more at alternate venues. Ilers compares the plan to the Massey Hall Presents shows that have been taking place while Massey Hall is under construction.
As for a new home, he says it could be six months or it could be two years. But they don’t plan on shutting down operations any time soon.
“This is a committed group. It’s not just the staff, it’s the board and the people that volunteer with us,” he says. “We will be around and [a new venue] will happen, it’s just a matter of finding the right home and making it work.”
“We’re sad but we are committed and expect to be around for a long time.”