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CASA member Ian MacDonald opened the meeting by saying the plans for the new Columbus Centre had not been well received by members and it had forced members to join with the larger outside community against any development of the lands for private profit.

Villa Charities, new Chief Executive Officer, Anthony Di Caita took exception to those who used the athletic facilities being called members.  He said they were not members but were "consumers of a product" and that the Columbus Centre was a vendor and the 4,000 consumers were just clients with no greater right to participate in or control the destiny of the vendor than any other supplier of services they might purchase.

DiCaita then described how expensive it was to operate such an "old facility" and that the joint venture with the school was an opportunity to share resources and lower operating cost.  He was unable to identify a similar joint school/community centre facility.

DiCaita confirmed that all new directors of Villa Charitiess were appointed by existing directors.  He said that Villa Charities had no obligation to report on their decisions to their "customers" or to anyone else since they take no money from the government or any other outside organization.

CASA member, Angelo Scioscia, a former teacher said there would be a culture clash between the seniors in the Columbus Centre and the incoming high school students. He asked how they would be segregated.  DiCaita gave an unclear picture as to how this would be accomplished.  DiCaita described a triple gym on the school side and fitness equipment on the Columbus side and how separate times to use these facilities would be agreed on for each parties use.  He confirmed that they would no longer offer health club facilities with all its special offerings.

CASA member, Lawrence Pincivero, asked if they were now short of funds, why were there no fundraising events like the Columbus Centre used to hold, and he had been active in, when the Columbus Centre was being built 40 years ago? No answer was provided.

DiCaita confirmed that the school board would be buying the Columbus Centre property from Villa Charities because they did not have the $50,000,000 required to build the new facility on their own.  They would then become a tenant in the new property. 

He also pointed out that the sale could not go through unless certain conditions were met.  It was confirmed that no temporary facility had yet been located. (Note: As of October 8, 2017 a temporary facility has still not been identified nor does CASA expect such a facility will ever be located.)

During the meeting he reported the interesting fact that only 20% of the Columbus Centre members were over the age of 64. 

This was an unproductive meeting.  Villa Charities sees little need to alter their course or compromise.  They were intent upon selling us on their objectives without having any benefits or features of interest to the CASA representatives.

The following are the questions we had hoped would be answered. They are questions that we ask you to raise at every opportunity when meeting with Villa Charities board members.  Please bring to our attention any other questions you think should be asked.


1. Why construct a new Columbus Centre at this time?

2. What other options were considered?

3. Why were the rezoning plans submitted to the city before they were completed?

4. Why were the plans rejected by the city?

5. Why is a joint venture with the school necessary?

6. Who are the developers most actively involved in this proposed construction?

7. Why is Villa Charities allowed to operate behind a curtain of secrecy if the government has, over the years, aided them with millions of dollars in taxpayers money?

8. Which board members voted to proceed with the construction of this new joint facility?

9. When was the vote taken to proceed with this construction?

10. How was the community consulted and informed before the vote was taken.

11. Was the inconvenience to the 4,000 members and tenants of the assisted senior apartment buildings (owned by Villa Charities) taken into consideration?


12. Why were the elderly tenants of the assisted senior apartment buildings not informed of the proposed construction until May 2017?

13. Why does the new proposed roadway plan show access for more than 2,000 condo units?

14. Why did the Archdiocese in 2015 plan on having the church torn down by 2020?

15. Why has Cardinal Collins now said the church will never be torn down during its 50 year lease?

16. How was the public informed of this important issue by the school board before the vote?

17. Is the lawyer handling the OMB submission for Villa Charities aware that the community was not consulted about the plan before the submission was made to the city?

18.  Why do the plans show no squash courts, raquetball courts, tennis courts, whirlpools, men's Health Club steam room, TV lounges, small Health Club gyms, seperate saunas for men and women and dedicated small lockers for every member?

19. Is it proposed that students will share locker space with Columbus Centre members?

20. Why would the development be announced before suitable temporary quarters were established?

21. Why are none of the 4,000 Columbus Centre members on the board?

22.  Why are Villa Charities board members not nominated and elected by users of Villa Charities facilities?

23.  How many and which boards, under the Villa Charities umbrella, and how many of their directors, were involved in the decision to demolish the Columbus  Centre?

24.  Why is CASA not allowed to distribute its notices and post them on bulletin boards in the Columbus Centre?

25. Which directors have conflicts of interest in the proposed construction?

26. Why have Villa Charities opted to go to the OMB before the city has had a chance to debate the the zoning changes?

27. Why does Villa Charities oppose making the Columbus Centre an official heritage site?

28. How many parking spots will members lose between 5 AM and 10 PM on week days?

29. How will parking for catered events at the Columbus Centre be handled?

30.  How many spots will be shared with the school during weekdays?

31. What body will arbitrate disputes between the school and the Columbus Centre.

32. How will the elderly tenants in senior apartment buildings safely access the green space during and after the construction?

TORONTO STAR By Angelo Persichilli, Politics

Mon., Aug. 14, 2017

A heated dispute is brewing in the Italian-Canadian community about the future of the Columbus Centre in North York, the most iconic symbol of Italian immigration after Pier 21 in Halifax.

The controversy is not just about a structure that will be torn down and replaced with something that has still to be completely defined. The dispute goes beyond the Italian-Canadian community and involves two visions of how cultural heritage should be protected.

Villa Charities, which runs the Columbus Centre, is a non-profit organization that runs many activities and structures built with both public and private money in the Toronto area. For the last half century it has showcased activities to promote Italian and Italian-Canadian culture and business — everything to do with so-called “Italianità.” There’s social housing, sports facilities, a senior’s home, restaurants, a daycare, and an art gallery.

The historic symbol of this activity is the Columbus Centre at Dufferin St. and Lawrence Ave. W., with its well-known “Rotonda.”

The plan put forward by Villa Charities calls for demolition of the Columbus Centre and construction of new facilities that will include a high school and theatre. Cost of the operation will be over $70 million, financed equally by Villa Charities and the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

The school board will contribute money from the provincial government, while Villa Charities will sell almost three acres of the dozen acres it now owns. In the end, the board will own the new structure while Villa Charities will get a long-term lease to co-use the facilities.

Critics accuse Villa Charities of unnecessarily destroying a symbol of Italian-Canadian history and leaving many unanswered questions about the future of the entire organization.

Villa Charities argues that the existing buildings, which date from 1980, need expensive restructuring that it cannot afford.

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Of course, there are many details missing about the project. But from what is known now, it deserves to be opposed.

First, Villa Charities has failed to prove that there are no alternatives to the proposed project.

Second, nobody embarks on such deep changes without appropriate consultation with stakeholders.

Third, a public organization can’t sign agreements first and give the details after.

If this lack of openness is just a mistake, the organization has created a public relations disaster from which it will be hard to recover.

These serious procedural failings have increased suspicion about the real scope of the plan and raised concerns about the future of the centre. Critics fear it will lose its major symbolic structure and end up with a fragmented ownership. If the Columbus Centre can go now, everything can go in the future, at the whim of the board of the day.

Promoting heritage is not just about providing a stage for tarantella dancers or presenting a fashion show. Heritage is also about symbols that remain for future generations to see. The Columbus Centre and la Rotonda have been the place where presidents, prime ministers, artists and painters have paid tribute to Italian entrepreneurship and ingenuity in Canada. Many in the community have celebrated weddings and family anniversaries there, creating a cultural bond with the place and among each other.

Romans are remembered for their history but also for the presence of symbols like the Colosseum, built 2,000 years ago. We defend Casa Loma, built “only” a century ago, because it’s part of Canadian history. Tearing such structures down to build something economically more appealing without presenting real alternatives is a sign of cultural laziness. Or just part of an aggressive business plan designed to set the stage for a future housing development.

The Columbus Centre isn’t Casa Loma or the Colosseum and was built less than half a century ago, but the concept is the same. A key part of the cultural and social commitment of a community organization like Villa Charities must be to defend the symbols of the community. The project put forward for the Columbus Centre doesn’t do that. A leasing agreement is good only until the leadership of the organizations change.

If these principles are compromised, the entire area will be at risk of losing its original purpose. It may end up as just another residential area with high-priced condominiums.

An Italian politician once said that doubting people is a sin, but most of the time you are right on the mark.

Until those doubts are removed, the provincial government has a duty to stop this plan.

Angelo Persichilli is a freelance journalist and a former communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  






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