Matador ballroom poised to play a brand new tune
Music may yet still have a place within the proposed residential redevelopment plans for the site housing Little Italy’s historical Matador ballroom, which once played host to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Stompin’ Tom Connors and Blue Rodeo.
Ali Saneinejad, a development manager and partner with 466 DCR Urban Properties Inc., which bought the 103-year-old ballroom at 466 Dovercourt Rd. last May, said in addition to seeking out music-related entities for the commercial space planned for the site, his group also intends to preserve some remnants of the existing building including the exterior marquee and a wood-panelled wall plastered with the signatures of famous musicians such as Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin.
Saneinejad said the developers are mindful of the Matador’s “historical significance within the city and the music industry.”
“This was a very prominent afterhours music venue and it hosted a lot of significant artists over the years,” Saneinejad said of the property, which has been dormant for almost
13 years. “We wanted to have a commemorative strategy to honour the history of the Matador,” Saneinejad said.
Last month, the developers filed a rezoning application, seeking city approval to demolish the one-time Dovercourt Assembly Hall and First World War-era dance hall and erect a new structure, increasing the height of the building to six storeys from its current two to make room for 30 residential units and 12,196 square feet of commercial space.
Saneinejad said the building at College Street and Dovercourt Road was sold to his group for $4.4 million by its previous owner Paul McCaughey, who gave up on his bid to transform the site into a restaurant and wine bar, after nearly a decade of failed revamps and attempts to get city permits.
“At this point, I’m just relieved I finally get to close this chapter of my life,” McCaughey told the Star in May. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if we had not had the difficulties in the process of our many applications to the city, the Matador would be open today.”
It took six years for McCaughey to get a liquor licence for the property, which he finally got in February 2016. It then took another two-and-a-half years to win a zoning certificate, in September 2018, permitting him to operate the Matador as a “place of assembly” with a small “eating establishment” open onto Dovercourt at the front and a “custom workshop” that he hoped might be used as a recording studio or screening room downstairs toward the back. He had given up on the live-venue dream.
“The process took far too long,” he said.
Saneinejad said they did look at saving the building, but “it’s an extremely old building and it’s not in the greatest state.”
A heritage architect has been brought in to lead the preservation of some of the historical features, which will be made accessible to the public at the site where Johnny Cash once drank the night away and Cohen shot the video for “Closing Time.”
“We’ve discussed that (commemorating the heritage value) with the city and the heritage department,” he said.
Saneinejad said though the property would be opening a new chapter, the hope is to recreate some of spatial features of the Matador’s interior space.
He said it’s premature to say who would occupy the commercial space, “but we’re very actively looking for music-related uses for the space.”
Saneinejad said the developer is currently in talks with venue operators, music hub-type entities and recording studios.
The mixture of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units would be priced according to market rates in that neighbourhood, he said.
Saneinejad and his partners are now awaiting a response from the city and was unable to provide timelines for when that response might come. He hopes the city clears the requested height and density variances.
“These small developments are extremely challenging and they’re not generally pursued by developers,” Saneinejad said.
“It’s extremely sensitive and any kind of bumps along the way could totally derail the project.”
The Matador marquee, seen here in 2018, is one part of the dance hall a developer hopes to save when putting in residential and commercial units.
The new owner of the Matador music venue in Little Italy has applied to build a six-storey condo project on the site.
The developer hopes to preserve a wall of signatures from acts and characters that have graced the Matador ballroom, which includes Joni Mitchell (her signiture is centred above).