What does the future hold for the Hearn power plant?
When I arrive at the Hearn Generating Station to inquire about its future following this year's Luminato Festival on a sunny Friday afternoon, the old power plant is alive with activity. Signs of the two and half week arts festival are gone, but the enormous building hardly seems abandoned.
An NBC work crew is preparing the space to film scenes of the upcoming Taken television adaptation, Studios of America President Paul Vaughan is on the phone discussing an upcoming Guillermo del Toro feature, and outgoing Luminato director Jรถrn Weisbrodt is preparing to tow his Airstream trailer away from Toronto for the next stage in his life.
It's an intriguing moment to be at the Hearn, one that gestures to the future of the hulking industrial complex. No one knows if Luminato will be back next year, but even as Weisbrodt sails off into the sunset, it seems sure that we haven't seen the last of major public events here, though it might take some time before the scale of this year's festival is reproduced.
"I've had some completely off the wall proposals," Vaughan tells me as we stroll around the space. "I can't get into the specifics on account of confidentiality, but I'm getting a lot of calls." His company, Studios of America, owns the lease on the Hearn, which could run until 2041 if various extensions are exercised.
According to Vaughan, the popularity of the video capturing the Rufus Wainright and Choir! Choir! Choir! collaboration at the Hearn has generated significant interest in the decommissioned power plant from groups beyond the film industry, though he characterizes many of the inquiries he's received as "pie in the sky."
For now, the future of the Hearn is to continue on as one of Toronto's primary film locations. There were 17 major shoots at the former industrial site last year, and with the Canadian dollar where it's at, there's no sign of its waning popularity with American film crews.
If anything, the success of Luminato this year has complicated the long term future of the building. Over the last decade there have been various musings about re-purposing the site as an arena complex or, more dramatically, as the the future home of an NFL stadium. Now, however, the viability of the site as a cultural hub can't be brushed aside.
In any case, grand scale ideas for the redevelopment of the Hearn have gone quiet. Studios of America's lease of the property is surely part of this - any proposal would have to involve the company for next quarter century - but it's also because the Port Lands itself still remains a big question mark.
How and when the area will be redeveloped isn't known at present.
While the only part of the complex that enjoys heritage protection is the towering smokestack, there doesn't appear to be any immediate danger of the building being lost to demolition. At present, it's too valuable as it is.
Studios of America sought and received a demolition permit in December 2010, which the city granted, but no action was taken. A demolition for demolition's sake scenario is highly unlikely to play out here because the structure is just too valuable as a shooting location.
"You can't reproduce the Hearn on a soundstage," Vaughan explains.
As to the company's willingness to host another Luminato or cultural programming of its ilk at the Hearn, Studios of America is open to the possibilities, but it has to make sense financially. Vaughan speaks with pride about what the festival was able to do with the space this year, but notes that proposals for use of the space must be economically viable.
In that sense, a return of Luminato to the Hearn is very much in the hands of the festival itself. It's too early for the recently appointed artistic director Josephine Ridge to disclose her plans for the 2017 edition of the event, but even if Luminato moves on, the city has now seen what can be done when the space is opened to the public.
The gauntlet has been been thrown down, and what becomes of the Hearn prior to full scale redevelopment of the Port Lands is very much much a matter of how creative would-be users of the space can get with their proposals.
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