After being closed for two years, the city’s historic 3,200-seat show palace reopened in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2010, impressively enhanced for a new era. But one final touch was still on hold — a much-needed remake of its outdoor space at the northwest corner of the building.
Now under a contract recently signed by the city, the Sony Centre and its development partner, the new and vastly improved West Plaza is a go.
It has been designed by big-name Montreal landscape architect Claude Cormier, and the plan is to make it glitter as brightly as the architectural jewel that Peter Dickinson created more than half a century ago.
Under the terms of the contract, the city will contribute $300,000 and the developer $700,000 toward the minimum total cost of $1 million. But the final cost is likely to be closer to $1.4 million, with Castlepoint Realty Partners paying the overage.
“The space was previously accessible only for Sony patrons,” says Alfredo Romano, president of Castlepoint, which triggered the remake of the venerable performing arts centre in a deal that enabled the developer to build the L Tower condo project, designed by Daniel Libeskind, on the southwest piece of the property.
“Now the west plaza is going to be a park that the people of Toronto can enjoy, with access from three points,” says Romano.
Sony patrons will be able to enter it directly from the theatre’s lobbies, and for special Sony events, the space can be made private.
But at other times, there will also be public access from the corner Yonge and Front Sts., just steps outside the Sony building.
Among the perks: landscaping, public art and benches for seating.
Work will begin toward the end of this year once building materials have arrived.
Why has it taken so long to get around to reinventing the West Plaza? One big reason was because of other construction close to the site, including the L Tower.
Meanwhile, under interim CEO and program director Mark Hammond, the Sony has renewed its brand as a cultural hotspot — even while the city is in the process of merging the board and management of the Sony with that of two other civic-owned theatres, the Toronto Centre for the Arts and the St. Lawrence Centre.
For three nights over the past week, the Sony had a fresh jolt of energy. Fall for Dance North, in its debut season, showcased short offerings from many international companies, and all for a ticket price of $10. The response from Toronto audiences was electric, and that’s a positive way of building future audiences.
Fall for Dance has long been a tradition at New York’s City Center, but trying it in Toronto was considered a gamble.
I attended the third and final performance on Thursday. The house was full and the audience was alive to the highly diverse work of dance companies from many parts of the world.
Ilter Ibrahimof, artistic director of Fall for Dance North, felt confident that a Toronto version would be a game-changing success. But even he was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and generosity of corporate sponsors and private donors in this city.
Fall for Dance North accomplished its mission to become a signature annual festival where you can savour a wide range of dance styles and artists at an accessible price in a classy venue.
Since it is mainly financed by sponsors and patrons, ticket sales account for just 10 per cent of the costs.
For the remainder of this year and the first half of 2016, the Sony will be buzzing with a wide range of shows, including Sleeping Beauty on Ice, Canada’s Walk of Fame, Sesame Street Live, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and many corporate events.
And by the time Fall for Dance North returns next year, visits to the Sony Centre will include an extra dose of pleasure: intermission on the West Plaza.
Correction – October 6, 2015: This article was edited from a previous version that mistakenly listed the Muppets as a coming attraction.