Home / World / English News / Mirvish’s 11-year-old CAA theatre could be torn down for condo buildings – Toronto

Mirvish’s 11-year-old CAA theatre could be torn down for condo buildings – Toronto

With a sloped view, where every seat in the house gives both good visual and audio, Mirvish’s CAA theatre holds a warm spot in theatre critic Steve Fisher’s heart, but it may cease to exist if redevelopment plans proceed.

The 112-year-old property, which has operated as a cinema and theatre for over 100 years, is poised to be redeveloped as a 76-storey mixed-use condo building, according to a proposal notice filed with Toronto.

The 651 Yonge St. location is just one on the block poised to be redeveloped, but considering its storied history and importance to the art world, some are still holding out hope.

“It’s not a done deal yet, the application hasn’t been approved by the city yet. I think the city (should) take some steps to ensure that a theatre remains at this site because there has been a theatre operating here for over 100 years,” said Fisher, a member of the board of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.

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The current plan is part of a surge of redevelopment aimed at making Toronto denser with housing amid an affordability crisis. It would see the CAA Theatre being redeveloped to accommodate 678 units. But, Fisher is unsure if luxury condos would solve that crisis.

And while the 20-year critic does note that it’s unlikely many lovers of the live performance arts would say the CAA Theatre is their favourite venue, that doesn’t mean its value isn’t immense.

“It’s not necessarily a cultural gem,” he said. “What it is really important for is the ecology of Toronto theatre.”

A spokesperson for the city said the application is in the rezoning stage and is being reviewed by city staff, and the developer will then have a chance to address concerns. They added that a community consultation was held on Feb. 1.

“If staff are satisfied with the response, then a recommendation report would go to Council for approval of the official plan amendment and rezoning. The property is also subject to a site plan control application,” said the spokesperson.

Click to play video: 'The Ed Mirvish Theatre celebrates 100 years'

The Ed Mirvish Theatre celebrates 100 years

Global News was provided with a statement from Coun. Chris Moise, who represents the ward where the redevelopment could occur.

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“I am supportive of building more housing in our City. However, I am looking forward to working with the applicant and City Staff to ensure this development incorporates and retains the theatre use. ” We cannot continue to lose valuable arts and cultural sites in our Ward,” he wrote.

Moise added that the application resulted in some confusion about the exact development site but maintains that there is work to do and potentially a standoff with the developer.

“I am working with City Staff to correct this and ensure we undergo due processes to maintain the theatre use. Theatres, music halls, and other cultural venues are important spaces to our downtown communities and we need to ensure its retention in our ever-changing cityscape,” said Moise.

History of the theatre and significance

David Mirvish bought the theatre in 2007 before selling it in 2015 to developers.

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“We sold the building in 2015, and we’re here eight years later. We expected this, but we think there is still some more time to run the theatre,” said John Karastamatis, director of sales and marketing with Mirvish Productions.

The theatre, the smallest of the four Mirvish-operated theatres, was completely rebuilt in 2005 and features 700 seats in a more intimate setting.

“There are not a lot of theatres of this size; if a theatre does well in a small space, there aren’t a lot of places for it to go, so it could then move up to those thousand-plus-seat venues,” he said.

There are other mid-sized theatres in Toronto, but the history of the one at 651 Yonge St. is essential, as is its location, according to Fisher. With a recent trend in movie theatres to ditch films that don’t bring in significant revenues or create small independents that could hit it big, Fisher noted removing a theatre of this size, often home to quirky and offbeat plays, could kill off some talented production companies.

“To lose a space like this, that’s a whole bunch of theatre companies that have been producing important and great work,” he said.

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The importance of the space cannot be understated simply by looking at the plays that have been workshopped in the theatre, like Come From Away, a Canadian musical that has gone on to have Broadway success, noted Fisher.

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Recently, Fisher watched Indecent, which received rave reviews at the theatre. The play was the second time, and first since the pandemic, when Jessica Greenberg was able to perform at the CAA Theatre.

“A few months ago, my face was splashed across that theatre,” said Greenberg.

The play was part of a performance by Studio 180 in partnership with Mirvish, as the former does not have a permanent theatre space.

“We don’t have our own space, so we do rely on other available spaces throughout the city to rent to be able to do our work. It’s sad, I love being on that stage,  I love performing on that stage,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Massive remodeling of CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto underway'

Massive remodeling of CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto underway

While Karastamatis believes there is still about another five to six years before the theatre is torn down if the plan proceeds as proposed, he noted it was a safe place for creators to put out shows that didn’t constantly lick in the mainstream.

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“It provided an opportunity to do smaller shows, more quirky shows, shows that have more niche appeal than mass appeal. We’re sad to see it go, but it won’t go for many years from now,” he said.

With the theatre at risk of being torn down and ceasing to exist at that location, Fisher said that the city should take assurances, incorporate a new performance or art centre in the new building, and put the onus on developers.

“You can’t let people strip away the culture, it’s on them to bring solutions forward, and I hope the city and council hold developers to that,” he said.

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