Rye is interested in buying the site where the Empress Hotel once stood. PHOTO: RODERICK FITZGERALD

Ryerson still has eyes set on former Empress Hotel property

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By Sierra Bein

Ryerson is looking to buy the site of the historic Empress Hotel at Yonge and Gould Sts., which was destroyed by fire on Jan. 3, 2011.

The university has been in negotiations to purchase the lot since 2012, the year after the building, which had recently been designated a heritage property, went up in flames in a blaze set by convicted arsonist Stewart Poirer.

The hotel had stood on the corner of Yonge and Gould since the 1800s.

Poirer was arrested in the summer of 2012 with numerous charges including four counts of arson.

“Ryerson remains very interested in the property that is the site of the former Empress Hotel,” Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s vice-president of administration and finance, said in an email.

“The location is very strategic for the university. We would like to acquire it and remain in negotiations with the owners.”

It is still undecided what Ryerson would do if it were to obtain the property. University president Sheldon Levy’s Master Plan for the school, unveiled in March 2006, focuses on improving student and community experience, and talk of a creating a separate subway entrance for students on the site is circulating around campus.

The owners of the property, members of the Lalani family of Toronnto, were not available for comment on the progress of negotiations. However, Al Lalani Jr., the owners’ contact for leasing, said last year the property had sentimental value to the family and that they had plans of their own to develop the site.

Ryerson students were divided in their opinions on what should happen with the property.

“I think they (the owners) should sell it,” said Pitman campus administration worker Adam Robb. “Obviously I’m biased because I’m a student but, if they sell it to Ryerson, it will give us a public face on Yonge Street.”

However, some students believe the owners shouldn’t be pressured into selling the property.

“In my personal opinion, if the owner is so insistent not to sell it, they shouldn’t, especially after the Sam the Record Man issue,” said first-year journalism student, Emily Theodore.

After Ryerson began construction at the former Sam the Record Man building, they announced they were not putting up the historic company sign on their new building, citing environmental issue among others. Sam Sniderman’s son is outraged the iconic sign will might not be hung to honour his father’s legacy.

In 2011, various food vendors occupied the empty lot. Currently, construction company Ellis Don is renting the space for equipment storage during the construction of Ryerson’s new student centre, directly across the street from the empty lot.

Kailyn Taylor, a graphic design management student, believes there is more that can be done for he family.

“They could make a memorial with it, the family could help design it or give it a name, but at least with Ryerson it will be useful for students.”

Negotiations are ongoing but, Ryerson does not yet have a timeline for acquiring the property.

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