Dec-9-2005-Town Crier-$20-M makeover for Casa Loma raises questions

Charity’s operating expenses should be audited, says critic

The Kiwanis Club has operated Casa Loma on behalf of the city since 1937, but some residents and city officials are now expressing doubt over the charity’s ability to manage the well-known landmark.

The castle is one of the city’s top tourist attractions, pulling in $5.6 million last year. The expenses of running and maintaining the castle were $4.33 million. However, those expenses weren’t outlined in a recent city report.

That’s part of the problem, said Trelawny Howell, the great-grandniece of Sir Henry Pellatt, the man who originally built and owned the castle.

“It (Kiwanis) should be audited,” she said.

Last year, Casa Loma had a net revenue of $1.26 million, of which the city received 77 percent and the remaining 23 percent went to Kiwanis.

Because the castle has fallen into disrepair over the years, the city recently approved spending $20 million on its restoration, which is now half completed.

“Why is the city investing $20 million in renovating the exterior with taxpayers’ money,” Howell said, adding the castle’s upkeep should be the responsibility of Kiwanis.

She also questions why the licensing agreement with Kiwanis has been renewed since 1937 without any tendering process that would have allowed other companies to bid on the contract.

Kiwanis’s latest contract is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2006.

Mayor David Miller, chair of the policy and finance committee, wanted to extend Kiwanis’s lease on a month-by-month basis once it expires. However, city council voted to extend the lease for another 27 months, until the end of 2008.

While the decision to extend the lease is public, the discussion and report by which that decision was reached is confidential.

“This city continues to have a closed-door structure on this lease,” said Howell.

Meanwhile, a city-appointed advisory committee has been set up to suggest ways the castle can be enhanced and also to determine whether Kiwanis should continue to manage the castle.

The Casa Loma Advisory Committee (CLAC) was formed in June, 2004, but because it will not report to city council until next spring, it was Ron Kanter, the chair of CLAC, who suggested the lease be extended, rather than look for a new manager at this time.

A meeting was held Nov. 30 to get the public’s views on how to proceed. About 75 people showed up including city staff, members of Kiwanis and CLAC.

“This was stakeholders and Kiwanis members (in attendance). It wasn’t a panel where people go up and ask questions and the meeting wasn’t publicized,” said Howell.

The format for the meetings was a series of presentations by Kiwanis, CLAC, and the heritage architect in charge of the $20-million restoration project.

Kanter said some of the suggestions in previous meetings included that the castle should attract Torontonians, not just tourists; there should be a greater effort to reflect the Edwardian heritage and style of the castle; and that the castle should become part of a heritage precinct that includes Spadina House, the Baldwin steps and the City of Toronto Archives.

Richard Wozenilek, chair of the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma, outlined his vision for the castle, which included all of the initiatives mentioned by CLAC.

Wozenilek said the castle attract roughly 350,000 visitors a year and hosts 200 annual events. Kiwanis spends $1 million annually on the castle’s maintenance and hands over $1 million in revenue to the city.

Kanter said CLAC’s report on Casa Loma would go to council around May.

“Our recommendations will look at the vision and goals of the castle and ways those goals can be implemented,” he said. “Our report may allude to governance (how it’s operated),” said Kanter.

Rita Davies, the executive director of culture for the city, expressed her desire to see the castle resume its majestic place among the city’s other famous landmarks.

“Kiwanis has done a great job over the years, but what we’ve heard is that (the castle) has lost its connection to the community. People haven’t gone in years. We’ve heard this from a lot of people over time,” she said, adding this has been a wake-up call to try and find a way to connect people back to Toronto’s castle.

She said the castle was in such a state of disrepair four years ago that if the city hadn’t approved the $20 million for restoration, sections of the castle would have been deemed unsafe and possibly taken down.

Local councillor Joe Mihevc, who sits on CLAC, said there’s no time like the present to plan for the future.

“We are using the occasion of Kiwanis’s lease expiring to look at how to take this prized public asset into the future.”

This article also found in:
Bloor – Bay,Forest Hill

Posted Date: Friday, December 9, 2005
Story Location:

This entry was posted in 2005 News. Bookmark the permalink.