Clubland will never be the same.
The condo boom may have helped revive dead zones in the core, but it seems the huge influx of condo dwellers at loggerheads with club owners is now threatening to squeeze some of the nightlife out of the district.
The question is, is this good or bad?
A few weeks ago, the city passed a bylaw prohibiting any new clubs from opening in the Entertainment District and capping at 14 the number that will be allowed in the King-Spadina area.
It's not entirely clear whether new clubs will be allowed to take the place of those that close. Interviews with city officials seems to suggest not.
No one wants to shut clubland down, insist city officials pressed by local complaints about traffic, parking problems, and crime. They just want to make sure it's safe.
But are local homeowners being allowed undue influence in determining the course of a downtown that belongs to everyone? Politicians from the core putting pressure on clubowners know who voted them into office - and it ain't clubbers from the 905.
The problem is, there are now two dozen condos and more than 80 nightclubs sharing a compact area in the Simcoe, Bathurst, Queen and Front square.
Since 2001, the number of people living in the district has ballooned from a little more than 1,000 to close to 7,500. On any given party night, 50,000 revellers spill out into the streets.
But while the place is frenetic by night, it tends to be sleepy by day. City planners are hoping for the mix of uses articulated in a 1996 planning document for the King-Spadina area of clubland, which saw art galleries, theatres and restaurants - all of which have been overwhelmed both by clubs and condos.
The area had been designated for "regeneration" more than a decade ago, and city planner Sharon Hill says another review of the district, including its public spaces, is underway.
If some are concerned that residents wield too much clout, others worry about police pressure. No one disputes that dangerous situations arise in this part of town, but how much should law enforcment challenges be allowed to shape planning decisions?
Besides the curb of clubs, a new bylaw already requires that nightspots be outfitted with metal detectors to screen patrons. Of course, that won't keep violence from erupting outside the clubs, but that's a worry for another day. Clubs will also be required to provide one security guard for every 100 partiers on their premises and to carry up to $2 million liability insurance.
"People are more readily taking drugs and firearms with them when they go dancing, which is utterly bizarre," says downtown Councillor Kyle Rae.
Under changes introduced last October, a club owner with a criminal record can be refused a licence or have it revoked for up to 10 years, depending on the charge. No one found guilty of a sex offence involving a minor can now own a club. The city will also run background checks on club licence holders more frequently - once every four years as opposed to once at the initial issuance of the licence.
The province's Alcohol and Gaming Commission has also entered the fray with a proposal to broaden background checks to include "associates" of club owners who are applying for liquor licences. Currently, the OPP conducts background checks on any owner, manager, shareholder or director of a business applying for a booze licence.
Grit MPP Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot), who chaired public consultations on proposed changes to the Liquor Licence Act, says that "a number of municipalities and community groups, and police groups in particular, were concerned that sometimes the name of the person applying for the liquor licence had little if anything to do with the business, which was a front for someone else."
What? Clubs fronts for criminal organizations? Law enforcers say clubs provide the perfect cover and a captive clientele for unscrupulous types looking to, say, push drugs.
Police Superintendent Paul Gottschalk, who headed up 52 Division, which polices the Entertainment District, before being transferred to 43 Division last December, is reluctant to talk in specific terms. He admits we're talking about only a handful of clubs.
But he says wiretaps leading to charges of extortion against one plainclothes officer last year revealed that at least a few club owners have ties to groups identified by police as being involved in organized crime.
"From that investigation it became very clear that we were dealing with organized crime," says Gottschalk. "They were very explicit as to what they would do to people who got in their way."
Don Rodbard, co-founder of the King Spadina Residents' Association (KSRA), has been a loud - sometimes too loud - critic of club owners he says aren't doing enough to prevent nuisances in their clubs from spilling into the streets.
He sees the new rules as an acknowledgement on the part of the city that this situation "is well out of control."
Rodbard makes it sound like club owners are purposely flouting the law when it comes to noise and keeping party-goers in check.
But Nick Di Donato, president and CEO of Liberty Entertainment Group, which operates several downtown nightclubs including the Phoenix, Crystal Room, Velvet Underground and C Lounge, says fierce competition is causing some to cut corners.
"The clubs are bringing in less revenue, and as a result they've become more lax in terms of security and all the things that come with being a responsible club operator."
Other live music venues - taverns, bars and restaurants - are sweating the fact that having a dance floor, the main criterion used by the city, may get them classified as clubs.
More to the point, they don't want the headache of having the new rules cramp their style and hurt their pocketbook.
"No way I am putting a metal detector in my front door," says Jeff Cohen, owner of the Horseshoe Tavern. "Not gonna happen."
Cohen managed to renew his business licence recently without having to install a metal detector by registering as a billiard hall. He's not convinced all the new rules make sense.
"They want to do something to stop the violence in this city? Ban the handgun," he says. He says the city's just blaming club owners for its own failure to control violence.
Of course, people need to feel safe when they go clubbing, says Cohen, but what kind of city do we want? "Do you want to be New York or do you want to be small-town Maryland?"
Bill Blakes, director of investigations for Metro Licensing and Standards, says, "Our main focus is public safety and compatibility between businesses and residents." But Di Donato counters that those living downtown should expect to live "with a little more noise and activity." Can't we all just get along?