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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Yay! ROM Condo Tower Kaput!

The 46 story luxury condo tower proposed on the side of the planetarium has been officially withdrawn, public outcry cited as the main reason.

Of course, the ROM now needs to raise about $20 million from other sources, so I'm going to put my money where my mouth was and send them some cash. I may dislike the Crystal Terror but I'd rather see them finish it without the ROM become the "Molson's Royal Ontario Museum".

Full story from the Toronto Star behind the cut.

ROM drops plans for condo tower
Nov. 8, 2005. 12:09 AM

Bowing to a public outcry, the Royal Ontario Museum and its building partner, Graywood Developments Ltd., have withdrawn a proposal to build a 46-storey condo tower on the site of the defunct McLaughlin Planetarium.

"We always knew there would be opposition but were startled by the intense wave that hit us late in the process," William Thorsell, the museum's CEO, said yesterday in a phone interview with the Toronto Star after issuing the official announcement.

"When the consensus is that broad, you just have to back off."

Thorsell was heckled and denounced at a public meeting last week. The storm of protest — much of it coming from outraged representatives of the University of Toronto — made it obvious the ROM would face a long, damaging fight, probably ending in defeat, if it decided to press on with ROM South, as it called the project.

And as the Star reported Saturday, a prominent couple who had pledged more than $1 million warned Thorsell they would withhold payments unless the project was called off.

The decision to cancel was made at a crisis meeting Friday afternoon at Graywood's offices. The developer will suffer the losses on expenditures for the aborted project, leaving the museum without a financial penalty for its misadventure.

ROM South would have involved 35,000 square feet of office space for the museum on the lower floors of the tower, a public plaza with links to Philosopher's Walk and a glitzy new subway entrance, as well as living space for super-rich buyers.

Most crucial, the development was expected to yield $20 million of revenue toward Phase 2 of Renaissance ROM — Thorsell's visionary reinvention of the museum.

Phase 1, featuring Daniel Libeskind's Crystal extravaganza along the museum's Bloor St. W. side, is under construction and set to open next summer. The money to pay for the first phase has already been secured.

But Phase 2 — including the restoration of seven galleries in the oldest part of the museum, south of its main entrance — has been left blowing in the wind after yesterday's surrender to public pressure.

"We'll need to raise another $60 million to get it done," Thorsell explained with a sigh. But he has not given up on his target of completing it before the end of 2007.

"Our fundraising team has been spectacularly successful," he notes. "The original goal was to raise $110 million from the private sector in five years, but already they have raised $116 million in three years. Now it turns out that is not enough. So we have a new goal of raising an additional $25 million of private money over the next three years."

The museum is also hoping to get $24 million of government funding ($12 million each from Ottawa and Queen's Park).

"Controversy scares people," Thorsell says, "but it might also have a positive impact. I'm hoping that by drawing attention to our need, this incident will move people to come to our aid with pledges. We knew the last part of the fundraising campaign would be the hardest. That last climb up the mountain is steep and cold and windy. But we are determined to make this happen."

And what will happen to the planetarium site? For the moment, nothing. The ROM is already using the old building for office space.

A deal for redevelopment would almost certainly have to involve a partnership with U of T. But at the moment, the two neighbouring institutions do not seem to be in a collaborative mood.

"We may have to leave the future of the planetarium site to our successors," Thorsell says.