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St. Mike’s park sold as condo site

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St. Michael’s College is selling its best-used and most-loved green space to become a condo. Sadly, the college needs the money so badly no students or alumni have the heart to block the deal.
The piece of land in question sits at the southwest corner of St. Mary and Bay streets. But the park, about half way down St. Mary, will be the most missed section.

Reza Ketabi led the opposition to the deal. As president of the St. Mike’s student union, he worked over the last year to get over 1000 signatures on a petition to save the land. But after all that work he accepts the decision of the unanimous August 4th vote of the Collegium Council, the governing body of St. Mike’s. It sets plans in place for the construction of a condo on the land as soon as the developer, Marco Muzzo, sees fit.

“If this is something that needs to be done, it has to be done,” said Ketabi.

“As long as the college won’t be in the same situation in 10 years, students are willing to make this sacrifice.”

What is the sacrifice? He says that bit of green is well loved by the students: orientation activities were held there; all St. Mike’s intramurals held their practices there; and he even recounts, “I know a girl who met her fiancé on that field.”

St. Mike’s debts, on the other hand, are staggering. The president of the college, Richard Alway described it this way: “We’re at a situation where our bank debt is over $7 million. The bank’s ceiling is $9 million.

“The existence of the college is at stake. There is no choice.”

The college has wanted to sell the land for a long time. Father James McConica, the past president of the college, had a deal with a developer in 1987 that collapsed with the recession of the early 90s.

St. Mike’s used to be financed, for its first 130 years, by priests and nuns on the payroll who donated 95% of their earnings back to the College-what the college called its “living endowment.” As they have slowly been replaced, professors have not been so generous to the College’s community. Now to fill the void, the College is forced to sell another living endowment, the students’ most loved green space.

Attempts to raise money have been tried in the past, and failed: a hiring freeze, wage rollbacks, and student levies totaling over $1 million.
Other colleges raise funds through alumni endowment. Again, numbers tell the story: U of T’s two eastern colleges are nearly the same size but their bank accounts aren’t-Victoria has $150 million in alumni endowments, while St. Mike’s has just $16.4 million.

One St. Mike’s alumnus, Brian Devonish, found out about the condo deal while training in the park for hockey season. He summed up his position on the sale of the land succinctly, “It’s a shame, first of all because there’s not much grass downtown unless you want to go to Queen’s Park and get eaten by squirrels.”