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The 519 reaches out to community for Moss Park recreational redevelopment

Community consultations will start this month as the city and The 519 community centre move forward on the possible redevelopment of John Innes Community Centre, Moss Park Arena and the surrounding park space.
The idea was first floated a few years ago, in the midst of the excited lead-up to last summer’s Pan Am Games, as an LGBTQ-focused sports facility. But the initiative has been broadened in the feasibility stage, expected itself to cost as much as $1.6 million, to be a more inclusive community-based recreational facility, not focusing exclusively on LGBTQ users, but building on The 519’s success at creating a welcoming atmosphere for diverse communities at its base at Church and Wellesley.
At the very least, the plan would replace the existing recreational infrastructure and redeveloping the entire park space and sports field. But it could be more ambitious than that. “We imagine, given the evolution of the neighbourhood and the population changes projected over the next 20 or 30 years for downtown Toronto, that that will include a substantial increase in the overall envelope of the building, but we’ve also committed to maintaining as much parkland and sports field as possible,” says Maura Lawless, executive director of The 519. There’s been no financial commitment by the city yet and no talk at this point of bringing private developers on board.
Last month, local activists hosted a town hall meeting questioning whether the 519 plans would speed gentrification of Moss Park, driving out lower-income and other marginalized people like sex workers. Lawless says the public consultation process, which will hold its first public meeting on May 31 and a design-oriented public meeting on June 6, have been in the works for a while and is not a response to the criticism. Still, Lawless says there have been some misunderstandings.
“We understand those concerns and that’s why we think it’s incredibly important that the communities who live in those neighbourhoods now shape and inform the site design, the priorities that are relevant to the current community,” she says.
Three community organizers have been hired to reach out to social-service organizations and bring the voices of homeless people, people living Toronto Community Housing and other marginalized community members to the table. “These are folks who may not necessarily come out to the traditional community conversation,” says Lawless. “We as an organization have expertise in terms of the LGBT community, but this facility is intended to be open and accessible to everyone. At some level there’s been some misinformation that’s gotten out in terms of this being a gay gym or only accessible to some people. That’s fundamentally untrue.”
The consultation period will end September 30, with a report expected to go before council by the end of the year.
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Maura Lawless
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