An aerial view of Ryerson’s parking garage on Victoria Street that could be demolished to make way for a new business building if it is approved.

Photo: Ottavio Cicconi

Garage faces wrecking ball in biz bid

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By Melissa Godsoe

Ryerson is planning to knock down its parking garage to make room for a new business building.

The proposal Ryerson submitted to the Government of Ontario’s SuperBuild program calls for a new business building across from the current one of Victoria Street, say sources familiar with the proposal.

Ryerson is still waiting to see if the government will approve funding for the new building.

While Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse would not confirm the proposed location of the new business building, he admitted the parking lot could be a possibility.

He said the university has limited land to build on and it will have to consider replacing parking lots with buildings, as it has done with the Centre for Computing and Engineering that is now under construction.

“I have a lot of sympathy for those in need of parking,” he said. “But I am running an academic institution not a parking lot. My priorities are clearly on the academic side of the institution.”

With parking already limited around campus, losing the garage which holds about 370 cars will likely cause an even greater crunch for students who drive to school.

According to Frank Cappadocia, the general manager of CESAR, parking will likely become an issue should Ryerson receive the go ahead from the provincial government for the business building.

“We’ve asked just in general [about parking], even when the engineering building was [talked about],” he said. “Once we hear more about it, at a certain point, we’d probably begin to interject.”

Lajeunesse, who has presided over more than $100 million in SuperBuild construction, said the business would be the last building slated for construction for quite some time.

Ryerson’s business faculty has long wanted a new building, but missed out on the first round of SuperBuild funding.

Tom Knowlton, the dean of the faculty of business, said the proposal put forth for this round of funding was very solid.

“It’s a submission that is very fact based and very persuasive,” he said. “I don’t think we could have provided a better document for our submission.”

A new building would bring the school of business, the School of ITM, hospitality and tourism and the School of Retail Management under the same roof.

Millions of dollars have been spent on the cosmetics of the current building but students and professors still complain of overcrowding, a lack of functional electronic connections and inadequate classrooms that have been a problem since the business program moved into the building in 1966.

According to Lajeunesse, the school of business was left out of the first round of SuperBuild not because of a lack of need but because the department did not have a solid proposal ready in time for the first bid submitted in February 2000. He added that the university has learned a great deal and is confident with the proposal put forth for this round.

“What we’ve learned from the first round is that when you do your homework well and you work hard,” he said, “your likelihood is greatly increased.”

Knowlton said business has always been under consideration for a new building.

“The president assured us we would be a priority the next time around if another round of SuperBuild funding was available. And our submission this time around was exclusively business and I think that’s tremendous.”

Knowlton could not attach a possible price tag to a new building, but Lee Maguire, the former associate dean of business, pegged the cost at $80 million in 2000.

The plan to build on the parking garage site could cause problems for Ryerson in its dealings with Pen Equity management corporation. Pen Equity, the company that is developing the Metropolis complex at the corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets, has an agreement with Ryerson’s parking garage on Victoria Street. In exchange for the air rights, Ryerson would have access to 12 of the 24 theatres for lectures during the week.

Lajeunesse said Ryerson’s contract with Pen Equity has not changed as of yet.

Pen Equity has remained tight-lipped about its dealings with Ryerson and the Yonge and Dundas Metropolis which has been slated for construction since the mid-1990s and was expected to open in May of 2000.

However, Keith Travers, special projects manager at Pen Equity, said he is not concerned with Ryerson’s commitment and said possible renegotiations of the contract have not been considered.

“First of all, we haven’t looked at that because we have an agreement in good standing,” he said. “If Ryerson is looking to change that, they will come to us.”

Travers said Pen Equity hopes to make an announcement about the development very shortly.

City Councillor Kyle Rae is fed up with the numerous delays that have resulted in a vacant lot at the corner of Yonge and Dundas. The city expropriated the land to the corporation in hopes of redeveloping the downtown core and has no control over the construction or the delays the development has seen.

He scoffed at Pen Equity’s possibility of an announcement regarding the building site.

“I heard that last summer,” he said. “And the summer before that.”

Rae said the corporation let down the city, local businesses depending on the rejuvenation of the area and the university in its inability to go ahead with its plans. He thinks Ryerson has every right to look elsewhere should an opportunity arise.

“We put together an agreement in 1995 and as we proceeded with the development we knew it was needed space for the double cohort,” he said. “And Pen Equity’s failure to deliver on that time line is disgraceful.”

Ryerson has since signed an agreement with the Carlton Theatre to hold daytime lectures at the theatre beginning in the fall. Ian Hamilton, the director of university planning, was unable to comment on the location of the new business building.

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