Jul-19-2007-Globe- Dogs get their day – and room to run

Globe & Mail


Council approves new rules for off-leash areas in parks and finally decides the fate of Casa Loma

Meanwhile, the battle for Casa Loma - seen as Toronto's tired, aging castle on a hill - was finally won yesterday when city council voted to keep it in the hands of the Kiwanis Club, despite objections from a handful of councillors.

The fight pitted the local councillor, Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's), an ally of Mayor David Miller, against the Kiwanians, who hired Paul Sutherland, a former councillor and well-connected lobbyist, to knock on doors and make their case at city hall.

Their efforts helped reverse a recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel that they be stripped of their control of the city-owned palatial home, which the Kiwanis Club says remains the city's No. 2 tourist attraction, next to the CN Tower.

Council voted yesterday 32-5 to instruct bureaucrats to enter into negotiations to seek a new licence agreement with Kiwanis, possibly for as long as 20 years. A move to have the place's books inspected more regularly was referred back to the bureaucracy for further study. The final agreement with the Kiwanis is to return to council by fall for approval.

The city will likely be allowed to appoint some board members, but Kiwanis chairman Richard Wozenilek says his bottom line is for his group to retain the majority and the chairmanship.

Mr. Mihevc had argued that a new arm's-length Casa Loma Trust, more accountable to the city, be set up and run in the same way as the zoo and Exhibition Place.

He said Casa Loma - for which the city is paying $20-million in exterior renovations - is a massive missed-opportunity for the city, and needs a more dynamic, professional board to run it. As it stands, he said, the Kiwanis Club has done too little with the place.

"Go to Casa Loma right now, go to the second floor. It's a bunch of empty rooms," he said, adding that city staff believe it could bring in a lot more money - enough to run it and restore it - if the castle's potential was fully exploited as a tourist destination.

Mr. Mihevc also questioned the Kiwanis Club's move to hire a lobbyist to influence city staff and councillors.

"Could you imagine if the zoo hired a lobbyist to lobby us? Guess what, they paid a whack of money to hire a lobbyist to lobby us as to how they would be governed. ... To my mind, that's inappropriate," Mr. Mihevc said.

Mr. Wozenilek said the Kiwanis has ambitious plans to restore and renew Casa Loma. And he denied allegations that Kiwanis planned to hand a lucrative operating contract to Toronto's Liberty Entertainment Group, saying any contract would be open to competition.

The mayor supported the Kiwanis deal, as did deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, who yesterday said starting over and leaving the attraction in limbo would only deepen its decline: "Twenty or 30 years ago, Casa Loma was an iconic element in the city. Somehow, we let it slip."

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