Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
Pitching City Hall
“I think that it’s completely unique that the City of Toronto offered a 30-something entrepreneur, I would argue, the most important project in Toronto. What are the chances of anything in Paris or London or New York ever being given to anybody, or even to a committee? The city, in the end, gave it to a young, tree-hugging, 30-something kid with a vision. Well, that’s amazing.”
— David Young, Philanthropist
In early 2002, Evergreen presented its first business plan for “Evergreen Gardens at the Brick Works” to Glenn Garwood, project manager with the City of Toronto’s Culture Division. Glenn was interested. Since most of the site had been abandoned, urban explorers, party animals and graffiti artists had made the crumbling buildings into their playground. According to Glenn, it was time for action. “This was not a do-nothing scenario,” he says, “All it would take is one or two kids to fall off a roof, and see how much trouble you’re in then.”
The place was calling out for its next life, but due to a complicated political situation, zoning issues and the economic climate, no one was able to lead the charge. The answer was far from obvious. “I was in a bind,” said Glenn. “I couldn’t legally pitch the site to the private sector, because it had been expropriated from the private sector. So I could only pitch to governments and non-profits. Well, who had the kind of money to revitalize a site? And then along comes Evergreen. They’ve got an idea.”
Evergreen’s idea—to establish a native plant nursery that provided skills and job training—spoke to the public mandate of the site, to its ecological significance, and to its economic realities. Not only did the concept have a built-in business model, but Evergreen was also committing to bring the necessary capital dollars to the table to make it happen. We had Glenn’s attention, and so an ally within City Hall. But there were many hurdles between Glenn’s initial interest and the City and the TRCA handing over the keys.
In summer 2003, the City issued a “Request for Proposals for the Adaptive Reuse of the Heritage Buildings at The Don Valley Brick Works.” The qualified candidate needed to demonstrate a plan for the site that would respect its geological, ecological and industrial heritage significance, provide related public programming and be financially self-sufficient.
In addition, the City wanted a proponent that would oversee the redevelopment and integration of all 16 buildings—not the original two or three buildings that had initially attracted Evergreen’s attention. In Glenn’s words, we couldn’t “cherry pick” only the buildings we wanted—we had to take them all. This mandate of the City greatly expanded Evergreen’s vision for what this project could be. While we felt our idea for a native plant nursery and related ecological programming could easily fill a couple of buildings, what would we do with the rest of the space?