Friday, 3 August 2012

Well now we know what Ryerson's promises are worth

In their current license application to regain the old CKLN signal at 88.1 FM in Toronto Ryerson swore up and down that the "New Ryerson Radio" would have a deep commitment to Toronto's music and cultural scene. That they would have significant community involvement as per the CRTC's regulations. Never mind that their application has Byzantine rules clearly designed to prevent that from actually happening. Never mind that Ryerson President Sheldon Levy specifically promised, in an interview with the Ryerson press, that they would never "give up control of the station again".
Not to worry though, it's not like Ryerson doesn't have a track record of respecting Toronto's music and cultural community right? Take Sam The Record Man for example. Back in 2007 when Sam's went bankrupt and Ryerson bought the buildings Levy promised that Ryerson would preserve the iconic store front signs with their spinning neon records, a Toronto landmark since the 1960's. He assured every one within camera range that of course Ryerson had nothing but respect for Toronto's cultural and musical heritage.

This wasn't just an idle boast to the media either. It was a promise made to Toronto City Council in order to get permission to buy and raze the actual buildings.
Well you can probably guess what would happen next;
(From "The Torontoist" June 14 2007);
SOS—Save Our Sam’s
By David Topping
In less than two weeks, all of Sam the Record Man’s contents are going up for sale at auction. Yesterday, we confirmed with Benaco Sales Ltd., the auctioneers for the property, that the most coveted and contentious part of the building—its entire front façade, including the iconic “THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT” records and “SAM” logos (minus the red backdrop, which is unmovable)—would indeed be part of the sale. But that’s not the end of the story.
The Save the Sam’s Sign!!! Facebook group, which is fast approaching 20,000 members, is, understandably, freaking out (as is the other Facebook group devoted to the same end, with about 10,000 members). Posted to the Save the Sam’s Sign group’s page is an e-mail from Heritage Toronto, written by Rod Kelly. It reads, in part, as follows:
Upon hearing that there was an interest in having the [neon signs on the front of the Sam the Record Man store] designated as being of heritage significance, Heritage Toronto immediately contacted Heritage Preservation Services, the City of Toronto department responsible for the Inventory of Heritage Properties, requesting that the issue be reviewed and what future steps could be taken to have the signs designated.
Within hours Heritage Toronto was told that the City of Toronto would be going forward to designate the sign. The designation will describe the sign, location and require that should the site be redeveloped the sign will be reinstalled, same location and be lighted at night. Heritage Toronto has committed to continue to work with Heritage Preservation Services to advance the plan and congratulates them for their swift and positive response.
The process for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act is essential to be sure that all aspects of the subject matter are assessed thoroughly and detailed in any recommendation to designate the site or structure.
Heritage Toronto’s website confirms the information, and today we spoke on the phone with Rod Kelly from Heritage Toronto, who also reiterated the information provided so far.
While the city (specifically, Heritage Preservation Services) intends to designate the signs as historical under the Ontario Heritage Act, and thus keep them intact, illuminated lights and all, it’s not so simple—especially in light of the fast-approaching auction. Kelly told us today that there is a possibility that the family could still sell the façade if they wanted to, in spite of historical designation. It’s not a sure thing: if the city designates the signs as historical soon enough, it is possible for the government to overrule the family—possible, not definite. But time is running out.
Here on Torontoist, if the signs do end up at auction, we’ve been tossing around the idea of mobilizing our readership and Torontonians as a whole to donate money and place a substantial bid on the sign on their behalf, but we’d rather it not have to come to that—instead, the best thing would be for the city to preserve the signs, intact, as-is, as they are now in the process of trying to do. What will happen next and how quickly it will happen is anyone’s guess, but we’ll try to keep you in the loop, especially if we get involved ourselves. At this point, it seems that the family’s word will be the final one. We’re hoping that they make the right decision.
UPDATE (June 16, 1:45 p.m.): The Star reports that Ryerson is interested in the property but is (like all of us) waiting on word from the family.
UPDATE (June 19, 5:30 p.m.): Eye‘s Dale Duncan writes that “Kyle Rae said this morning that his preservation panel will be bringing forward a motion [at this week's City Council] regarding the Sam the Record Man sign. The panel was late writing it up, so it’s uncertain what it will entail just yet, but Rae told the council: “it’s important that this get heard this session.”
UPDATE (June 20, 1:30 p.m.): Today’s sitting of Council is hearing the motion to historically designate the Sam’s sign (the last item on the agenda), which was moved by Councillor Rae and seconded by Councillor McConnell.
UPDATE (June 22, 1:30 p.m.): Still waiting on the Council to discuss the motion (it was being held by Councillor Mike Del Grande, for some reason), but in the interim here’s a copy of the motion to be put forward [PDF], which states, in part, as follows:
The intention of this Motion is to designate the property at 347 and 349 Yonge Street to protect Sam the Record Man sign, in recognition of its cultural heritage value. The sign is threatened due to the imminent closure of the store and subsequent auctioning of the sign on June 27, 2007. Heritage Preservation Services staff feel this is a significant landmark in the downtown and should be protected through designation.
The entire sign on the front (west) façade and above the entryway at both 347 and 349 Yonge are identified for designation. This includes the iconic large spinning disc neon signs with their red backgrounds, the “SAM” signs atop it and the backlit sign beneath. The smaller spinning disc neon signs on the adjacent façade at 341 Yonge are not identified for designation.
In addition to the opinion of professional staff, there is a great deal of public and media interest in the protection of the sign. The sign will be sent to auction before the next City Council meeting if this matter is not addressed in an urgent fashion.
UPDATE (June 23, 11:00 a.m.): Yay! Both CTV and The Star are reporting that the signs have been saved by the City, with The Star (whose article was written most recently) reporting that the entire building has been designated a heritage building. According to Kyle Rae, “[the City will] sit down with the owner or future owners as the property is being sold, and we hope to be able to maintain the two discs and `Sam’ signs on the rooftop as part of the ongoing history of Yonge Street.”


Yes that was inspiring wasn't it? Everyone coming together to save a Toronto landmark and a huge institute showing respect for our cultural sector. The system works!
Well you can probably guess what would happen next;
(from "The Eyeopener" July 2012);
Rye plans to shun historic Sam sign 2 Comments 09 November 2011 SamSam the Record Man in 2008. FILE PHOTO Ryerson has vowed to pay homage to the Sam the Record Man site by incorporating its iconic signage into the new Student Learning Centre, but documents revealed they would rather not. Associate News Editor Carolyn Turgeon investigates Sam the Record Man was once an integral part of Yonge Street, but Ryerson is not a fan of the iconic sign. “I would rather not use the sign,” said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy. This would come as a surprise for community members who campaigned extensively to save the sign in 2007-08. The piece of Toronto’s heritage was designated as such by Kyle Rae and the Heritage Recommendation Board during his term as Ward 27 councillor. Rae, who has since established urban consultant company PQR Solutions, said that when Sam’s went bankrupt there were many people who contacted his office and made Facebook groups about maintaining the sign. “There were probably two generations of Torontonians who grew up and saw it as their rite of passage as teenagers,” said Rae. “I agreed at that time that there was probably a significant impact from that sign.” He now views the sign’s significance in a different light. “There is still a cadre of Torontonians that can identify with this sign, but many current ones don’t know [about it],” he said. He understands the university’s hesitation to place the sign on one of their buildings. “It’s difficult to expect Ryerson to stick the sign on their property when the association will be lost,” said Rae. The stipulations were that if they were to build on the property, Sam’s sign would have to be restored from its broken down state and then incorporated. The original plan was that the sign could either be used in the design of the Student Learning Centre (SLC) or put on the South side of the library building, facing Gould Street. “In order for the university to be able to move on [the property]they had to negotiate with the city where the sign would be reconstructed,” said Levy. “I’m not sure, to be honest, if that’s something we should be asking property owners to do,” said current Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. Levy also revealed that restoring and mounting the sign to the building will cost approximately $250,000, which he believes could be better spent by the university. Concillor Wong-Tam said there are other complications as well. “It may not be physically possible given the size of the sign as well as technology having changed,” she said. The sign also doesn’t fit into the city’s new sustainable design for Yonge Street, and its outdated technology would be power consuming and hard to accommodate. There are now discussions for a more appropriate use of the sign or a different tribute that would better fulfill the needs of the school. “We are trying to discuss with [city council] a better place to memorialize the Sam’s location,” said Levy. The Eyeopener obtained a status report on the SLC which proposed a sidewalk tribute instead of the original plan. Levy acknowledged that a sidewalk tribute was being considered, while Wong-Tam said Ryerson had taken steps in developing an interpretive commemorative plaque for the property. Levy does not think Sam Sniderman’s sons, Bobby and Jason, would object. “It wasn’t family that made the issue, it was certain members of the Toronto community that saw it as an important thing and the city council respected their wishes and put it as a condition on the university,” said Levy. He said Ryerson will make their case, and the citizens may argue against it, but it will ultimately be up to the council. “Should they make no other decision we are obliged to follow what they have already decided and we will,” said Levy. According to Rae, the sign was never properly maintained and the city had to get Sam a grant before he would fix it in the late ‘90s. “We were trying to get it to look like the people who owned property on Yonge Street cared,” said Rae. “Frankly, Sam didn’t care.”

So we went from "Of course we will protect the sign! We are totally committed to Toronto's cultural heritage" to "Uhh; how about a plaque and a website that we can get some student to slap together? Now go away; I'm busy buying up Massey Hall for our new computer center".
Now there's the rapacious Ryerson we all know. Absorbing the surrounding neighbourhood like they're the Borg, if not the Blob.
This by the way is not the first time they have done this. When they bought Sam's (where I used to work BTW) they also bought the Sam's warehouse a few blocks away on Church st. You may recall it. It had a giant mural painted on the outside wall which included Stompin Tom Collins and The Tragically Hip. You may have noticed it's long gone. Yes that blank wall with generic Ryerson logo is much better. Thanks Sheldon.


At any rate there something The CRTC may want to mull over while pondering Ryerson's promises to make "The New Ryerson Radio" a Voice for the Community". Especially since their proposed bylaws specifically block that involvement. That's one promise I actually believe they intend to keep.


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