Toronto is on track have the first normal summer of the decade — concerts, parties, parades — you name it, it’s set to come back.
But in this season of reopening, the future of one of Toronto’s biggest street festivals remains in doubt if it can’t come to a resolution with the city over planning issues.
Taste of the Danforth, which was set to return in August after a two-year pandemic hiatus, is under logistical constraints that may not be solvable, according to one of its organizers. But the local city councilor says she thinks the problems are solvable and that the festival should be able to go ahead as planned.
In many places the Danforth is narrower than it was in 2019. CaféTO, a pandemic-born city program, expanded restaurant patios, while other city projects extended curbs and bike lanes further into the road.
The way the street is now, there won’t be enough space to sell to advertisers who pay for the festival every year, according to Mary Fragedakis, chair of the Greektown on the Danforth BIA.
“This event can’t pay for itself,” said Fragedakis, who is also a Liberal candidate in this week’s provincial election. “We can’t go into our surplus to do a festival that in the end costs us more than we would be able to take in.”
She said the city is unwilling to temporarily relocate all the road infrastructure because it considers it too costly.
“We need a street to host a street festival,” said Fragedakis. “The city won’t give us the road. They won’t move the CafeTO installations. They won’t move the bike lane infrastructure. And they won’t allow us to use the middle two lanes of the road because they want us to keep it free for emergency lane access.”
CaféTO and related programs have been fantastic for restaurateurs, Fragedakis said, but they are incompatible with Taste of the Danforth. Business owners don’t have the means or space to disassemble and store everything themselves. In some areas, curbs are extended with heavy tree planters and stones screwed into the street.
Coun. Paula Fletcher (Ward 14 Toronto—Danforth) said the city is willing to “move heaven and earth” to make Taste 2022 a success. She notes that other festivals have not had the same planning issues around road infrastructure.
“There are CaféTO installations on every major street in the city of Toronto and many festivals taking place this summer,” said Fletcher. “They’re all working with those installations, so the city believes that’s very possible.”
A spokesperson for the city of Toronto told the Star Tuesday that city staff from multiple divisions have been “actively working with festival organizers at Taste of the Danforth as well as the local BIA to help this annual celebration return with any modifications that may be necessary to ensure its success.”
Losing out on Taste again would be crushing for restaurant owners, many of whom barely survived the pandemic via loans and must now contest with rising labor and food costs, as well as rent.
“Whatever we do on a busy weekend, Taste of the Danforth brings in 10 times that,” said Tom Sgouromitis, owner of Eton House near Pape and Danforth. “It reinvents your place, you get a whole bunch of new customers.
“Losing it again, I think a lot of people won’t survive,” he added.
Fragedakis said one suggestion was that Taste organizers consider moving the festival westward on to the Bloor Viaduct bridge.
“That doesn’t do anything for Greektown,” said Fragedakis. “None of our businesses are on the bridge.”
Another suggestion was that the festival move east of Jones Avenue. Again, unpalatable, as this would push the festival outside the traditional heart of Greektown.
The city’s current offer, with just over nine weeks until the festival is scheduled to start, is to pay for an event planner to map out the road to see what can be done with available space.
“We don’t want to take people off the Danforth,” said Fragedakis. “An event planner would reimagine the festival, have it go east and west and into parking lots.”
But Fletcher said there is “no discussion of moving the festival out of Greektown, (the city) is just saying, ‘If you want more road, we can give you more road.’”
The clock is running down, but Greektown BIA is still hoping the city will slow down and remove the extended curbs.
“We’ve asked the mayor and the mayor’s office, and we’ve heard the mayor supports the staff’s decision, but we’re hoping he will reconsider.”
Fletcher sees it differently. “Festivals, all over the city, are proceeding on the street with (CaféTO),” she said. “I think we should try that first. That makes sense, to me. And I think it makes sense to everybody.”
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