Time run­ning out for arts haven

401 Rich­mond hopes for sur­vival hinge on tax break

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - TORONTO -

On a steamy pre-sum­mer evening this week, Coun. Joe Cressy stood be­neath the raw wooden beams of a com­mon space at 401 Rich­mond St., look­ing grave. He had ev­ery rea­son to.

The fate of the build­ing, a long-time sanc­tu­ary for dozens of the city’s non-profit cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions, is hang­ing in the bal­ance. He wasn’t the only one feel­ing anx­ious.

All around, dozens of the build­ing’s ten­ants had gath­ered. At is­sue was the build­ing’s tax bill, a fig­ure that has more than dou­bled since 2012, putting pres­sure on ten­ants and Ur­banS­pace, the build­ing’s owner, alike. This year alone, taxes will jump an­other 21 per cent, due to an as­sessed value that re­flects the over­heated prop­erty mar­ket sur­round­ing it. Ur­banS­pace has borne the brunt of the in­creases, shield­ing its thinly funded ten­ants as much as it can. But with the new tax bill due in July, time is run­ning out.

“There’s no ques­tion: There’s a fierce ur­gency of now,” Cressy said. It’s the full boil of an is­sue that’s been sim­mer­ing pub­licly since De­cem­ber when it was first re­vealed that the build­ing, an un­of­fi­cial cul­tural land­mark, was near the break­ing point, hold­ing the line on mod­est rents for its ten­ants while its tax bur­den ex­panded.

In 2012, Ur­banS­pace, the build­ing’s owner, paid close to $447,000 in prop­erty taxes, with its rate in­creas­ing steadily to that point at 1 per cent per year. Then in 2013, it jumped to $520,280. By 2016, the bill was within a few hun­dred dol­lars of $700,000. With­out some kind of in­ter­ven­tion, the build­ing’s 2017 tax bill will be $846,210.73. While Ur­banS­pace has ab­sorbed the worst of the in­creases, ten­ants have shared some pain. And with taxes pro­jected

who are hop­ing for some kind of leg­isla­tive tax break. The build­ing is has a num­ber of non profit, cul­tural en­ter­prises which may lose their home. to go as high as $1.29 mil­lion by 2020, there’s only so much that Ur­banS­pace can swal­low and am­ple rea­son to be con­cerned.

An oa­sis of dif­fer­ence now walled in by high-end re­tail con­do­mini­ums and of­fice space, 401 — with its mod­est rents and non-profit ten­ants — is a hold­out in a com­mer­cial prop­erty mar­ket driven sky­high by ram­pant de­vel­op­ment.

Cressy, ac­knowl­edg­ing the build­ing’s sig­nif­i­cance to the city’s cul­tural life, ex­hausted all of the city’s tax-re­lief mea­sures ear­lier this year, but they’re stop­gap at best. His ef­forts to bro­ker a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion with the prov­ince — a new tax class for “cul­tural in­cu­ba­tors” like 401 — have dragged on. He had come to the build­ing this week to of­fer an up­date: he had spo­ken with the pre­mier’s of­fice and had re­ceived an en­cour­ag­ing, if im­pre­cise re­sponse.

If no re­lief comes, the tax in­creases would likely spell the end of the life­long vi­sion of its owner, Margie Zei­dler, who re­ha­bil­i­tated the de­crepit hulk of an old fac­tory in 1994 into an af­ford­able refuge for its arts-minded ten­ants.

A new tax class would not just as­sure their sur­vival but might en­cour­age the blos­som­ing of like-minded ven­tures, thanks to a tax regime based on a build­ing’s ac­tual use, not its po­ten­tial max­i­mized value. (The prov­ince cur­rently as­sesses prop­er­ties based on a “high­est and best use” mea­sure: the value of a max­i­mum-en­ve­lope con­do­minium tower, say, re­gard­less of the ac­tual struc­ture on the site.)

Rick Madonik/ToRsTaR news seR­vice

Coun. Joe Cressy, cen­tre, stands with ten­ants of 401 Rich­mond Street West, from left, Marc Gass­man, Jen­nifer Bho­gal, David Plante and Bruce Pick­ton

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