Ryerson aims to acquire Empress hotel site

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By Diana Hall

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy revealed to The Eyeopener that he plans to take over the old Empress Hotel lot at the edge of Ryerson’s campus if negotiations with the current owners fail.

An initial notice of intent has been delivered to the office of Glen Murray, minister of training, colleges and universities, who would be the approving authority on an application to expropriate land under the Expropriations Act.

It’s a mighty tool in the real estate world that would give the university the power to acquire land it deems vital to its academic and structural development.

Although the site’s co-owners, members of the Lalani family, have said that they are not interested in selling the empty lot at Yonge and Gould Streets, Levy said the university will apply to expropriate the space “if necessary.”

“We can only ask for expropriation. The law doesn’t give us the ability to just say to someone ‘leave, thank you very much,'” Levy said. “There is a big process which requires the government to approve it.”

The site of the six-alarm blaze that led to the demolition of one of Toronto’s heritage buildings is a desirable space for the university. Elisabeth Stroback, executive lead, capital projects and real estate at Ryerson, said that the space at 335 Yonge St. would complete the university’s vision for a “gateway” into campus.

But she said that Levy’s notice to expropriate was “premature.”

“We are still negotiating with [the owners], and the preference is always purchase the property,” Stroback said.

Expropriation is fragile, but not unfamiliar territory for the university: a threat was enough to capture the venerable site of the Student Learning Centre, the former home of Sam the Record Man. Only then was an agreement reached with Bobby and Jason Sniderman, co-owners of the iconic landmark and sons of the store’s namesake.

Although the owners of 2160943 Ontario Ltd. plan to rebuild on the site, Levy has both a timeline and a Master Plan to satisfy. Levy is also well into his second term as president of Ryerson, a position that historically hasn’t been extended past two five-year terms.

The Yonge Street lot would round out his vision of Ryerson breaking through the barriers of Toronto – and, if time is running out, he has less than two years to secure it.

“We’ve been in discussions with them with regard to the development of that property,” said Levy. “We know of their ambitions and they are owners of that property so they have every right to have their own ambitions.”

Will Ryerson acquire the lot before the end of Levy’s term as president? Levy answered: “One hundred per cent.”

Members of the Lalani Group could not be reached for comment.

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