Or so goes the London Free Press headline in its account of an architectural report commissioned by the City to lay the groundwork for a deal to lease 5,000 square feet of office space for 10 years at an estimated cost of between $1.15 million and $1.6 million from developer Shmuel Farhi in exchange for preserving the narrow façade of the old downtown Capitol Theatre building.
Whether it is worth saving to the taxpayers who will help fund its restoration was not a question that the architect, Allan Avis, was contracted to address. Having written that it "warrants preservation and restoration," it would seem that he was instead invited to regard the question as moot, as it is in fact from the view of the politicians who commissioned the report at taxpayer's expense.
"It's pretty amazing," Controller Bud Polhill said yesterday. "There may be a premium to pay but there will be a great benefit, too."
Of the premium there is no doubt, but what should Londoners suppose is the benefit to them of preserving a strictly generic façade to a building that many of them haven't even seen for years? Having pretty much ceded the entire Talbot-to-Wellington corridor along Dundas to the vagrant population, it's unlikely in any case that the city's junkies, hoodlums and welfare recipients could have seen through the equally generic blanket of punk handbills that covered the façade since the theatre was vacated years ago. Assuming that they would have appreciated the value of downtown heritage, it has become a heritage of human more than structural dereliction now. Restoring one façade among several blocks of decrepit and half-empty store fronts will hardly restore the rest of London to the core.
The state of preservation being what it is in London, façades of generic political management have at least nothing to fear. In forcing through millions of dollars over the past decade in downtown restorations and improvements, London's politicians have ignored the real heritage of entrepreneurial building and commerce that created a vibrant and viable downtown in favour of promoting their own heritage of top-down driven managerial vanity. While administration has done an admirable job in recent years loosening restrictions on residential development in the core, politicians remains committed to a rose-coloured vision of business land use from which they perversely calculates the tight controls and political interventions that have destroyed the downtown. The evolution of the economy to produce new forms and functions makes it quite obvious the downtown will never appear or function precisely as it once used to. So it should be obvious that if a successful heritage of entrepreneurial creativity is permitted and protected instead of being regulated and restricted, the downtown will find a new way to thrive.