Toronto industry frets over studio land sale

The recent sale of Toronto studio land to a box store developer has again raised concerns among industry insiders over the future of the city's production ghetto.

The recent sale of Toronto studio land to a box store developer has again raised concerns among industry insiders over the future of the city’s production ghetto.

In September, Rose Corporation – parent company of Toronto Film Studios – sold 50% of its studio complex at 629 Eastern Avenue to SmartCentres, a land developer connected to box stores including Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire and Loblaws. The six-acre parcel of land went for $14 million.

TFS recently began construction on FilmPort, the so-called ‘megastudio’ for which it won the rights from the city in 2005, though the plans for the $275-million site raised concerns that it would weaken the city’s tight-knit neighborhood of film- and TV-related businesses. Though FilmPort will be just a few blocks from the TFS site, its contract with the city will bar competing businesses from the immediate area.

The sale of the TFS land at 629 Eastern has reignited those complaints and poses ‘a real whack’ to other businesses in the area, according to Peter Lukas, president of rival Showline Studios.

‘I don’t think it’s going to impact me, but it’ll impact a goodly portion of the city industry,’ he says.

TFS president Ken Ferguson stands by the deal. ‘I don’t think [the studio district] is scattering,’ he says. ‘It’s a bit organic, expanding and retracting.

‘Once we won the FilmPort bid, it became clear that we would develop out that property rather than put money into an aging facility… FilmPort will be world-class, and we need to focus our resources there,’ he adds.

Jim Mirkopoulos, VP of Cinespace Studios, says the sale backs up his long-held claim that building FilmPort will lead to a net loss of studio space in Toronto, though he did not provide numbers.

Jeff Steiner, president of the Toronto Economic Development Corporation, says that’s ‘ridiculous.’

Rose Corporation says the 629 Eastern site will continue to operate for the time being, pending a zoning hearing.