The curious case of the old Richard L. Hearn Thermal Generating Station on Unwin, across the street from Cherry Beach, just got curiouser.
It's looking like the heritage landmark and fave destination of urban explorers and movie shoots may be the next big domino to fall on the water's edge.
Studios of America, the company that owns the lease on the 12-hectare parcel, has applied for a demolition permit. Consider it a wake-?up call for the waterfront.
There are no firm plans for the site. Company spokesperson Paul Vaughan says he's keeping his options open. But after talking to him, it's hard to escape the sense that he applied for the permit to maybe turn up the heat a little under lagging talk of development.
Studios of America has been clearing out old equipment and "non-?structural" steel from inside the station to sell for salvage, as well as renting the space for movie shoots, just to keep up with the lease payments, Vaughan says.
Different plans were floated for the plant after it was decommissioned by the province, but none ever took off. Vaughan has some ideas and may have a sympathetic ear in Mayor Rob Ford.
How does moving that stacked rink approved for a site a few blocks away on Commissioners grab ya? Or maybe some retail? The land is designated for employment uses, which usually ends up meaning big box, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Vaughan wrote Case Ootes, the retired councillor, while he was serving as head of the mayor's transition team, about possibilities for the site. Moving the stacked rink, aka the Port Lands Sports Complex Project, already approved in principle by council, would save the city millions, Vaughan suggests.
According to Ford press secretary Adrienne Batra, the mayor hasn't officially been briefed on the matter. But Ford has mused aloud about why any city money is being used for the stacked rink project.
Local Councillor Paula Fletcher says the city already parsed the question of stacked ice rinks at the Hearn site back in 2008, when it was decided that the ice rinks wouldn't provide enough revenue to cover the operating and maintenance costs.
"What do you do with the rest of the site?" she asks.
Fletcher would prefer that whatever is considered for the site protect the decommissioned power plant. The circa-?1949 facility, an important historical landmark, was added to the city's inventory of heritage properties in 2003.
Fletcher notes that the province established guidelines in July for the disposal of heritage properties that "stress the importance of consultation with interested communities and groups."
If it can't be saved, there should at least be a discussion of what else might fit in the area, the councillor says.
Fletcher has drafted a notice of motion, seconded by Councillor Adam Vaughan, asking council to "reaffirm the city's interest in the protection and preservation of the Hearn Generating Station."
Easier said than done.
Ontario Power Generation, the provincial power authority, actually owns the site but doesn't seem the least bit interested in its fate. OPG is effectively washing its hands of this one. A spokesperson refers all questions on the demo permit request to Studios of America.
The bigger question: how in the world did OPG end up signing a lease that effectively relinquishes control of a key tract of waterfront space and allows the owner of the lease to tear down an important building?
We have to go back to when the deal was signed in 1995, during the dirty old days of Mike Harris, to find the answer to that question, buried somewhere in the former preem's Rolodex of developer connections.
Still, the province should have more than a passing interest in the land, and not only because it owns it. The government showed no reluctance to intervene next door, for example, when locals fought construction of a gas plant, the Portlands Energy Centre, but got one anyway.
Another reason the province should care: the Hearn site, while not officially part of Waterfront Toronto's plans for the water's edge, forms part of its waterfront planning area.
The guy holding the keys on this one, Studios of America's Paul Vaughan, says he's "serious about demolition only as a last resort."
That's where his idea of moving the stacked rink to Hearn comes in. Vaughan's itching to do something. He says anyone he's ever talked to about developing the site has pointed to the power station as the main obstacle. He's looking for a developer to sublet the land or go in on a joint venture.
Fletcher floats something akin to the Wychwood Barns artist co-?op for the site, but wonders why the city's the one raising a red flag when it's the province that owns the land.