June-14-2010 Toronto Star – City ready to snatch the keys to Casa Loma

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by Paul Moloney – June 14, 2010

Graffiti-covered walls and peeling paint mark the second floor of the garage portion of the stable complex at Casa Loma, which is sorely in need of restoration.
Mayor David Miller wants the city to take charge of Casa Loma and is calling for the removal of the castle’s chairman over allegations of conflict of interest.

In a report made public Monday, the city alleges that invoices totaling $118,000 were paid by Casa Loma for legal work done by its chair, lawyer Richard Wozenilek.

A subcommittee of the Casa Loma board was set up to review whether to pay the invoices. The board decided to pay, and hire another law firm that had previously acted for Casa Loma, the report said.

The city owns Casa Loma, but the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma has managed it for 70 years. In recent years, the two sides have been at odds over how to enhance the facility as an attraction.

While the city appoints half the voting members of the Casa Loma board, it comes under the club’s control. Miller told reporters he believes it’s time to start over with a new body in charge.

This is a very important asset in the city; it needs to be managed to the highest standards of result, in accordance with the highest standards of principle, and it’s failed on both counts, he said.

This should be a magnificent destination in Toronto and it just has not been able to reach the goals that Kiwanis and the city agreed on.

A separate report to council’s executive committee said the city has spent $16 million on exterior restoration since 2003 and plans a further $17 million worth of work from now to 2019.

The Kiwanis Club was to have accumulated $1.5 million by the end of 2011 for interior renovations, but will probably have only $335,000 in the kitty because it used funds to cover operating shortfalls.

Under a deal two years ago, the Kiwanis Club was to implement a strategic vision for the castle including interior renovations, rejuvenating the visitor experience and introducing new programs and amenities.

The deal required Kiwanis to achieve a higher standard of performance said the city staff report.

Nevertheless, in its first two years of operation, Casa Loma has missed a number of important deadlines, has not been able to make all of the required payments due to the city and is far behind the schedule for implementing the strategic vision, the report said.

After two years, it is evident that the current model is not working to enhance Casa Loma as an attraction, and there are indications that KCCL is not able to deliver the full extent of the obligations laid out in the agreement, it added.

Staff recommended that the club agree to several conditions by the end of July, including:

  • Setting up a joint working group to resolve operational and financial issues.
  • Holding board meetings monthly.
  • Developing a financial plan by Sept. 30 acceptable to top city officials.
  • Agreeing to an audit of Casa Loma operations and finances, including how the improvement fund is managed.

If progress is not made, the agreement should be ended, the report said.

Released late Monday afternoon, the report took the club by surprise. Wozenilek was away when it was tabled at city hall, and CEO Virginia Cooper said there won’t be comment until he returns to Toronto.

Miller requested in early March that the club recommend an alternate to serve as chair, but the club has not done so, the report said. Further, it said, Wozenilek had accused the city of orchestrating a plan designed to cause Casa Loma to fail.

The chair informed the board at its last meeting that the board’s executive committee had decided not to submit any more reports to the city until the dispute over the chair was resolved.

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