June 15, 2010
by Paul Moloney
Even Casa Loma’s former lobbyist says it may be time to turn the city-owned landmark over to a new operator.
Paul Sutherland, a former city councillor, was hired by the castle’s long-time manager, the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma, to help achieve a new deal with the city, which wants to see interior renovations, new programming and new visitor amenities added.
“You can only give people so much time and if it doesn’t feel like it’s going in the right direction, then perhaps there should be substantial change there,” Sutherland said Tuesday.
A new management agreement was negotiated between the city and Kiwanis and took effect two years ago. But Mayor David Miller has complained of slow progress.
Kiwanis has managed the facility for 70 years, but tensions have arisen in recent years with the city, which spent $16 million on exterior renovations between 2003 and 2009.
At Monday’s meeting of the city executive committee, Miller raised what he called a serious conflict of interest allegation involving Casa Loma’s chair, lawyer Richard Wozenilek.
The mayor publicly called for Wozenilek’s removal over $118,000 billed for legal work on Casa Loma’s behalf performed by the lawyer’s own firm. Miller wants the city to take over the facility.
Wozenilek was travelling and unavailable for comment, said Casa Loma chief executive Virginia Cooper. Calls to the lawyer’s cellphone seeking comment were not returned.
The city says the fees were for representing Kiwanis in developing the management agreement and issuing a request for proposals to find a new food-services company for Casa Loma.
According to a city staff report, the club was supposed to spend $1.6 million on upgrades to the castle by the end of this month. But because available funds have gone to cover operating shortfalls, there will only be about $335,000 available by the end of 2011.
That means delayed work. Some upgrades that were supposed to have happened by now are a new visitor centre, third-floor exhibits, restaurant, and floor and woodwork upgrades. None of that has been done.
“If it’s been two years and we haven’t seen what we want, then I think the mayor and council would be right in saying it’s time to just change things to make sure we can do it right,” Sutherland said.
“This isn’t an aspersion on the Kiwanis: It just might be that it needs more capital to make it what it should be, because it should be an amazing site.”
The city could issue a request for proposals for a new operator, he added. “There’s very capable people out there who would bid on it.”