Mata­dor ball­room poised to play a brand new tune

Toronto Star - - GTA - JA­SON MILLER STAFF RE­PORTER

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).

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