City taking back empty Queen West market after court victory

Toronto has won its latest court battle over a long-neglected Queen West market, which brings the empty building back under city control.

In a ruling released on Thursday, a superior court judge allowed city officials to end a 50-year lease for St. Patrick's Market and regain access to the building just east of John Street.

"The exciting part now becomes planning for the future," said Coun. Joe Cressy on Friday.

The court victory follows years of legal action between the city and Market Inc., the company which has held the lease since 1989.

City officials had hoped the century-old space would becoming a functioning marketplace. But the company's efforts were mired in controversy amid allegations of unpaid rent and a Toronto Public Health shut-down several years ago after mice were spotted crawling on a vendor's baklava.

"To date, Market Inc. continues to breach its duties to operate the Market Building as a mini-food market," the city alleged in a notice of application filed on Sept. 27.

The superior court judge agreed. This week's court decision said the company failed to make some rent payments — the base rent was around $5,550 a month — and didn't provide audited financial statements, while also noting that improvements made to the building in recent years were only "decorative."

"The work was finished by the summer of 2018 and a full year later, the space sat empty, the brickwork adorned with graffiti and garbage strewn around the exterior," the decision reads. 

Photographs taken of the building at the time "speak of neglect," it continues.

In granting the city's request to terminate the lease, the judge also stipulated that Market Inc. needs to pay a variety of damages and any outstanding rent.

Councillor wants to develop 'new dynamic space'

With the building now back in the city's hands, Cressy expects a formal process to develop a "new dynamic space" will begin as quickly as possible in the new year, including public consultations.

"The opportunities are endless," he added. "I'd like to see something that's going to add vitality and culture to an increasingly unaffordable downtown core."

Local businessowner Shamez Amlani, chair of the Queen Street West BIA, said the court win is welcome news.

Lauren Pelley/CBC News

"It's unfortunate the owner of the space couldn't activate it in a meaningful manner," he said. "I would love to see it get used because it's a place for the people, it's a place that's at the heart of the cultural backbone of the city on Queen Street West. To see it sitting empty is awful."

But he cautioned against the city giving it up to the highest bidder, citing a need to bring more support to local businesses instead of the large corporate stores that now dominate much of the crowded Queen West corridor.

Cressy assured that option is off the table.

"This is one of the by-products of rising property values — that it's more profitable to sell high-end winter coats and cocktails than it is to sell books and art," he said.

"And so, in a city where culture gives the core its soul, if we have an opportunity here to re-purpose city-owned space to bring culture back to Queen West — I think that's a real opportunity."