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NOW Magazine - 2021-06-10

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Practice Problems

MUSIC

By Richard Trapunski richardt@nowtoronto.com · @trapunski

the future is uncertain for the Rehearsal Factory, Toronto’s biggest chain of recording and rehearsal buildings. And now the city’s music community is scrambling. Rehearsal Factory operates seven buildings in Toronto, Mississauga, Etobicoke and Hamilton. Thousands of artists, including many of the biggest touring acts in the country, rely on those spaces to practise, record and store their gear. At the beginning of May, they were put on high alert with a message from C3 Toronto to its congregants. According to their website, the “hipster” evangelical church bought the building that hosts Rehearsal Factory at 330 Geary and the building next to it at 322 Geary. The church says they plan to build a 300-seat hall and eventually turn the Rehearsal Factory building into another 1,500seat auditorium. The Rehearsal Factory’s owners, Chris Skinner and Evon Skinner, denied that a sale has closed. But they have confirmed the closure of another downtown location on Richmond. “Due to COVID lockdowns, the Rehearsal Factory location at 660 Richmond Street West will be closing its doors effective July 31, 2021,” they wrote in a statement to NOW. “All tenants have been offered an opportunity to relocate to Front Street, Geary Avenue and other locations. The Geary Avenue location has not been sold. If and when it does sell, we will lease it back for as long as possible.” Nearly all the other buildings are listed for sale on real estate sites. The Front location was already sold two years ago and they’ve since been leasing it back. But none is more controversial than the one on Geary. Since the news started to spread, a petition on change.org titled “Stop C3 Church Toronto’s plans to enter Geary neighbourhood” has collected nearly 3,000 signatures. The petition was started by a newly organized group called the Geary Coalition. It’s made up of local residents, business owners, ex-members of the C3 church and Toronto’s arts and music scenes. “C3 is an organization that the surrounding residents do not want influencing the neighbourhood,” the petition says. “It is a group mired in controversy on a global scale, and its opposition to same-sex marriage, cannabis culture and BLM do not align with the values of the Geary Ave. community.” C3 did not respond to NOW’s requests for comment. C3 started in Australia and has been operating a Toronto chapter for more than five years. It’s held congregations in a number of different venues including Massey Hall and Central Technical high school. It’s been the subject of a lot of local and national press, all noting its millennial-friendly, social media-savvy image. But despite C3’s carefully styled progressive image and vague political views, some former members have uncovered some decidedly unprogressive homophobic stances. “Marriage was instituted by God, ratified by Jesus, and is exclusively between a man and a woman,” C3 Global’s website says. It also states, “Sex is a gift from God for procreation and unity, and it is only appropriate within and designed for marriage.” On its website, C3 touts the Geary neighbourhood as “an up-and-coming area” near Dupont and Dufferin and namedrops local businesses like North of Brooklyn pizza, Blood Brothers Brewery, Dark Horse and the Galleria development around the corner. Before the C3 news broke, the city was already looking into how to protect Geary’s character without pricing out the businesses that make it attractive. Led by the department of city planning and economic development & culture and city councillor/deputy mayor Ana Bailão, the city recently put out the Geary Works Planning Study. “We initiated this study to preserve and incentivize Geary as a cultural corridor,” Bailão tells NOW. “Spaces like the ones on Geary constantly get pushed out of our city as development pressures come, so we want to identify: how can we ensure these places are able to continue and thrive?” C3 acknowledges on their website that its ambitious plans would require approvals from the city and a zoning bylaw amendment to use the space as their headquarters and main Toronto church. The city can’t stop a private sale, Bailão says, but they can be clear about what can and can’t go into a neighbourhood. “I want to make this very explicit and clear,” she says. “We will oppose it.” Paul Ramirez is the drummer of long-running Ontario punk band the Flatliners. Seeing rumours fly about the sale of the Rehearsal Factory, he started a Facebook group called “Save Artist Rehearsal Spaces Toronto.” “Rehearsal buildings are some of the largest Toronto music venues most people don’t know exist,” he says. “There’s more blood, sweat and tears in the walls of the Rehearsal Factory then there is in most bars.” With rising rents and increased development, many bars and theatres are being pushed out. Rehearsal spaces are just as important to the local music scenes, giving artists and bands a place to develop before they start selling out big rooms. But unless you’re a musician yourself, there’s a good chance you don’t know much about them. Ramirez has joined with the Geary Coalition to represent the interests of musicians. There will be a meeting of the Toronto planning and housing committee on June 11 and he plans to give a deputation there. He’s also been emailing various organizations and stakeholders in Toronto’s music scenes and industries. His goal is to show just how important these spaces are to music and culture in the city. “If you [count up all the musicians who share] all the Rehearsal Factory rooms that could potentially disappear, that’s thousands of artists pushed out.” It’s becoming clear that rehearsal spaces could use help from the city, which is already trying to save music venues. Councillor Bailão says she’s started talks with the Toronto Music Office about the possibility of creating a “music incubator” in the west end where many artists live and work. And through the advocacy work, Ramirez has joined up with two other musicians – Ryan Roantree and Alain Benichou – to form a not-for-profit to create a cooperative artist hub that can fill the need for space. “We have to start thinking about the Toronto we want to live in if we’re going to continue to live here,” he says. “This is an iceberg we’ve been heading toward for awhile. People love getting behind Toronto and Canadian musicians when they’re hot, but they all started somewhere. If these spaces disappear, where are they going to go?”

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