As Hard Rock Cafe closes, Downtown Yonge BIA calls on Toronto to preserve other live music hubs

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It's with a sense of irony that Mark Garner flies off this morning to give a speech about the importance of preserving live music venues.

On Monday, the council member for Music Canada Live learned that the Hard Rock Cafe would soon become a Shoppers Drug Mart.

While there's often nostalgia connected to the loss of an icon — the shuttering of Honest Ed's and Sam the Record Man are recent proof — Garner told CBC Toronto this is more serious because it's the loss of an artistic hub.

The Band

One, in fact, that's helped foster musical greatness. in a previous incarnation as the Friar''s Tavern, it was where Bob Dylan discovered Levon and the Hawks, the group of Canadian rockers that would later be known as The Band.

"I think we've got to have a little more robust conversation in regards to what is the real value towards music to make a great neighbourhood," Garner said. "You should be able to see it in whatever neighbourhood you live in."

There's not the same attention given to the preservation of arts and culture as there is to architectural heritage, added Garner, also the CEO for the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Association.

Cultural versus architectural preservation

In fact, the Hard Rock Cafe property has already been designated a heritage building.

The restaurant did not provide a reason for its decision to look for a new space when contacted by CBC Toronto. Trade publication Retail Insider, however, quoted a source as saying that the landlord wanted to increase the annual rent for 279 Yonge St. to $2 million when the current lease expires in June 2017 — roughly double what the restaurant and event space has been paying.

While Garner called on the city to consider tax incentives for live music venues, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the city has a certain budget and can only divide it so many ways. 

The city cannot cap commercial rents, she said, but it can provide some relief in terms of commercial property taxes. 

But the Ward 27 councillor noted that, in this case, the commercial space happens to sit on one of the busiest, most recognizable corners in Canada — something that would likely come at a premium. 

That said, Wong-Tam noted that she's sorry to see the Hard Rock Cafe move out. 

"I know that the Downtown Yonge BIA is very interested in fostering a music strategy to make sure that the history of music on the street is going to be preserved," she said. "Of course, the Hard Rock Cafe is a place that actually does all of that – so I am sad to see it go."

Walking in front of the Hard Rock on Monday, Ian Royer said he was sorry to see the icon become a casualty to gentrification.

"Wow, that's commercialism in downtown Toronto at its best," he said. "A lot of iconic places in Toronto have disappeared in just the year that I've lived here."

Paul Hoy echoed Royer's thoughts. 

"Shoppers is found anywhere in any part of Canada," Hoy said, standing in the square. "This [the Hard Rock Cafe] has an appeal, it stands out in Yonge and Dundas Square."

"It's sad to hear that — there's a petition to sign, I guess."