After years of advocating for a Community Hub and Centre for the Arts in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of Toronto, the lands have been transferred and first steps are being taken to bring the facility to fruition.
The province recently announced it will transfer 2.174 acres of land next to the future Finch West LRT Maintenance and Storage Facility to the City of Toronto at no cost. The city will be moving forward with design-related work and will establish partnerships to construct the new 65,000 square foot facility located on Finch Avenue West between Norfinch Drive and York Gate Boulevard.
“They are working on terms of reference, the terms of engagement with the community organization,” Michelle Francis, a member of the Jane-Finch Community Hub organizing committee and the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), told the Daily Commercial News, adding she is confident the project will continue to move ahead. “It hasn’t been finalized but it is being developed. There is talk within that arrangement that there will be some kind of a time frame around when this work should get started.”
About five years ago, the TCBN negotiated an agreement with Metrolinx to transfer land as part of the community benefits agreement for the construction of the Finch West LRT. Although Metrolinx committed to transferring the land, it never materialized.
“From our negotiations with Metrolinx the land was part of the community benefits agreement. It had been set aside for community purposes,” said Francis. “When we went back to Metrolinx in the monitoring and evaluation we could never get clarification on it.”
Then last July a local councillor received a letter from the province saying Metrolinx was planning to sell the land at market value.
At a Jane Finch Community Hub Land Town Hall, hosted by the TCBN online July 28, community members spoke out about the proposal and said the community should have been consulted on the fate of the parcel of land. The area is densely populated with many low-income residents and residents living in subsidized housing. The hub is something the community has been wanting in the area for years.
In addition to community members, Toronto Mayor John Tory and councillors also advocated in support of the community hub project.
“At that meeting he (Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster) gave his word that the land would be set aside for community purposes,” said Francis.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also committed to the project following the event.
The new facility is expected to include a pool, which is lacking in the neighbourhood, as well as theatre space for artists to perform, a community kitchen and space for social enterprise. Francis said it will likely cost around $50 million.
Francis hopes the city will be a good partner and will maintain a connection with the committee and welcome input from the community so that the facility meets the needs of the residents which will actually be using it.
“Those facilities are the places where young people learn about intermural sports, those are the places where young people get their first jobs, those are the places young people start to network with each other,” said Francis.
“That place where you are all the same. It’s that equalizer.”
Francis has been working in the Jane-Finch community for almost a decade, even before joining the TCBN.
“The Jane-Finch community, they have witnessed disappointments in the past,” said Francis.
“Facilities were brought into the community without paying attention to some of those things that bring communities together, that can help build capacity, that can provide long-term benefits for the youth in those neighbourhoods.
“It will be interesting to see if this facility can have that kind of long-term impact that the community is looking for.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.