City questions Victoria College’s tax break on ritzy Bloor properties

The Colonnade would’ve owed Toronto $12 mil for 2008–2015


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The Colonnade opened in 1963, after Revenue Properties Company signed a 100-year lease with Victoria University

Victoria University, a college of the University of Toronto, has recently come under fire for an old agreement with the City of Toronto that waives the property tax for several university-owned buildings on Bloor Street’s Mink Mile, currently leased by some of the ritziest retailers in Toronto. 

Properties owned by Victoria University have been exempt from paying property tax since 1951, under the province’s Victoria University Act, including the Colonnade and three office and residential buildings on Bloor Street. In comparison, Ryerson and York University each pay taxes for commercial and non-academic properties. The University of Toronto pays a mutually agreed upon voluntary amount for their commercial properties. Victoria University has no such agreement.

As a result, Revenue Properties Company Limited was able to sign a 100-year lease for the Colonnade in 1960 and has benefited from a total tax break of $12,213,171 between 2008 and 2015. 

“Twelve million dollars would be able to buy TTC improvements. Twelve million dollars could have been easily allocated to help clear some of the backlog of the Toronto Community Housing capital improvements that are desperately needed. Twelve million dollars could have helped us to expand the shelter facilities,” said Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. “The list is endless. But $12 million could have gone a long way towards helping Toronto’s families.” 

According to a statement by Victoria’s president William Robins, “All lease income received by Victoria University is directed to the University’s core mission of educating and supporting students. It supports such things as teaching, students’ services, libraries, and maintaining heritage buildings.” 

Generally, commercial lease agreements require the commercial tenant to pay the taxes, maintenance and insurance to occupy the space.

“I don’t see any downside for the university because they themselves will not be paying those property taxes if they can pass those taxes directly to the tenant,” said Wong-Tam. “It befogs me to why we don’t have an agreement. It befogs me to understand why the university is unwilling to pay its fair share.” 

Toronto City Council’s general management committee (GMT) met on Feb. 21 to consider the next steps to negotiate a deal with the city and Victoria University. If a deal cannot be reached by Sept. 30, the city will defer to the province.

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