NEWS June 5th, 2012

By Omar Mosleh

Casa to become casino?

Don’t bet on it just yet, but it’s one of the options floated at public meeting

How does Casino Loma sound?

It may sound farfetched, but at least one member of the public with ties to the historic castle has visions of Toronto’s second most popular attraction potentially becoming a whole lot more popular.

Real estate broker Trelawny Howell[/url], whose great uncle Sir Henry Pellatt built the castle, is betting the city will sell off the former estate now that it has acquired management rights.

“I have a feeling now the powerhouses are going to come in, I think MGM will come in open a casino and take it over,” Howell opined. “The bigger players are going to be interested and Ford has already said he’s wanted to sell it.”

That was one of the more extravagant ideas put forth at a recent public consultation meeting on future uses of Casa Loma, held by Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc and Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow.

The city took control of Casa Loma’s management last year from the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma, which had run the castle for 75 years.

Now the Casa Loma Corporation has been established to determine the future of the attraction.

Some more moderate ideas include transforming portions of the estate into residential or hotel use and making it a nuptial destination.

“This should be the top wedding attraction in the country,” suggested Casa Loma member John Boddy. “The prime minister should be wanting his daughter to get married here.”

Boddy, who lives in Scarborough, said he believes a lot of untapped potential lie in the evening hours.

“The evenings are quiet, they should be humming,” Boddy said. “When (the Toronto International Film Festival) comes here, they should be dying to get into the castle.”

[quote]“I’d be worried that if the city loses control, it would become too commercial.”
— Area resident Robin Humphreys[/quote]

Some neighbours, like Judith and Robin Humphreys, whose yard backs onto the stables, say no dice to the idea of a casino. They would like to see the castle aesthetically upgraded rather than drastically changed.

“I’m holding on to its present use, but with some interior upgrades,” Judith said. “It looks beautiful on the outside, but I think sometimes when you get in it looks a bit weary.”

It’s easy to understand why the Humphreys don’t want any major changes happening to Casa Loma. Not only did the castle help attract them to the neighbourhood more than 30 years ago, but they also have fond memories of the grand estate next door.

“Our daughter said she couldn’t be married anywhere else because she had been over the fence so often to retrieve balls, there was no other place that fit,” Judith said. “So she got married there.”

Judith’s suggested converting the stables into an attraction.

“The stables is a beautiful building, but the grounds are used as storage instead of making it a little park.”

As it stands, the Casa Loma Corporation has identified about $20 million in capital needs for the castle’s exterior. The repair cost for the interior is unknown.

The corporation is considering options to raise the required revenue as the castle only brings in about $1 million annually. Options include converting portions of the site to residential, commercial, retail or institutional through a sale or long-term lease.

Lyle Hall of HLT Advisory, who advised Casa Loma Corporation, said there is interest from the real estate community for development and from third parties who would operate the castle as a special event venue. But heritage and zoning restrictions would limit major change of the buildings.

Despite the heritage designation, Howell said she believes the site would be developed well beyond its current use. “You know they just want to take down the [stables] and build condos.”The ancestor of Pellatt’s wife, Mary, said she’d like to see the city transfer ownership of the estate to the federal government, whom she believes would do a better job with management due to its deeper pockets.

But Robin Humphreys was quick to point out his reservations with the castle being sold off to another level of government or a private company.

“I’d be worried that if the city loses control, it would become too commercial of a facility that’s sitting fundamentally in a residential neighbourhood,” Robin said. “This isn’t down on the waterfront.”