Last night at City Hall, Councillor Adam Vaughan conceded defeat in the fight to keep the John Street Roundhouse from becoming a big box retail outlet. He withdrew his motion [PDF] calling for a temporary freeze on the redevelopment of the Roundhouse into a Leon’s outlet. The news derails a movement against the proposed furniture store that had been gathering steam recently.
First, a Friends of the Roundhouse group, which included former Mayor David Crombie, was formed and rallied to preserve the CPR Roundhouse as a rail museum. Then, on Monday, the Steam Whistle Brewery offered $10 million towards the cost of converting the rest of the Roundhouse into a rail museum. This offer went far beyond the current Leon’s plan for a much smaller museum. Vaughan’s motion was designed to give the city time to mull over Steam Whistle’s proposal. In withdrawing it, Vaughan conceded that there was no legal recourse to block the Leon’s redevelopment. The existing tenancy agreements with the city are valid and legally binding.
Although its arrival will surely continue to draw the ire of heritage buffs, Leon’s will maintain the historical character of the Roundhouse as required because the building was declared a National Historic Site in 1996. The retailer insists that the location will be different from the usual no-money down furniture warehouses we associate with suburban freeway exits, and will re-brand itself at the Roundhouse location to cater to the downtown market.
Not everyone, however, is upset with the store’s arrival. The Toronto Railway Historical Association are pleased that their presence in the Roundhouse is now a certainty, and plans for the establishment of a Toronto Railway Heritage Centre can now move ahead. They pragmatically assert that sharing the space with two tenants will allow them to fulfill their mandate of preserving Toronto’s railway history at no cost to the taxpayers. The organization plans to convert three of the building’s bays, and a refurbished machine shop into a museum to display locomotives and rolling stock, as per State Building’s agreement with the city. Far from being disappointed with the scaled back version of the museum, the TRHA sees the Roundhouse as only one portion of their broader scheme, which also includes Roundhouse Park, visual displays on the Skywalk, and Union Station. As more historical rail structures are retired from service, the TRHA plans to incorporate these as well. Walking tours will tie together their efforts to encompass many different areas of the downtown rail facilities that once stretched from Bathurst to Yonge.
The whole Roundhouse episode can be seen a number of ways. Either it’s another defeat in Toronto’s pattern of neglect towards the city’s heritage assets, like Walnut Hall. Or it can be seen as a relief that a rail museum, an initiative the city agreed to in 1997, will finally become a reality in the tourist-heavy corridor between the Rogers Centre, CN Tower, and the waterfront.
Photo by News46 from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.