Civic Theatres Toronto has secured a $30.75 million strategic partnership and naming rights agreement with Meridian Credit Union, which will see the Sony Centre become Meridian Hall, while the Toronto Centre for the Arts become Meridian Arts Centre.
The new naming rights take effect September 2019. But the theatres are not the only ones changing names.
Civic Theatres Toronto (which consists of three city-owned facilities: the Toronto Centre for the Arts, St. Lawrence Centre and the Sony Centre) is also rebranding as TO Live, a name that better represents the organization and reflects the next phase of the organization’s plans to grow, according to Clyde Wagner, president and CEO.
TO Live is also announcing the creation of the TO Live Foundation which will help it fundraise and work with the community.
“It’s our time to say we have a new name. We have a new brand and we have a new partner who is going to help us go forward,” said Wagner, in an interview with the Star. “And also for companies that are 50-years-old, for the first time we have a foundation, so people can help preserve these assets in a way that they should be. Toronto is a first-class city and the cultural assets that they own should also be kept up in a first-class way, and that takes everyone to be part of it.”
Civic Theatres Toronto was created in 2015 to find efficiencies and ways to improve the underperforming theatres.
The announcement was made on Monday morning at an event at the Sony Centre with Mayor John Tory. Both Wagner and Wade Stayzer, Meridian’s senior vice-president, say that the deal is more than just putting the name on the building, as both companies plan to find ways to work together.
“If you look at the communities we do business, it’s a key tenet of ours to contribute and give back, and help to build stronger communities. So if you look across from Ottawa to Vaughan to St. Catharines to Barrie, there are what I would call significant community assets to bear the Meridian name, and even more than that, signify the very strong partnerships between our people on the ground and our organizations,” said Stayzer. “When this was presented to us, this just fit very well with what we want to do, as well as what Clyde and his team are trying to do. At the end of the day to have our name on two iconic buildings in Toronto, it was a significant opportunity for us.”
The deal will see the money split over the next 15 years, and will help TO Live start to take the next steps toward preserving the city-owned cultural assets under it’s stewardship.
“This is a moment in time on a journey, it’s not the end, but it’s not the beginning, but it is time to celebrate a little. When we started three years ago, these were three separate entities, three separate businesses, The Sony Centre, the St. Lawrence Centre and the Toronto Centre for the Arts,” he says. “In the past two years, we’ve been doing a lot of work under the hood, amalgamating these companies, bringing the staffs together, creating one institution, with one system of booking of marketing…which is a way of leveraging efficiency, to do better for the city and taxpayer.”
The Sony Centre has picked up some concerts with the current Massey Hall renovation underway. All together, in 2018, there were 613 performances, with over 493,000 attendance at all the theatres last year. In 2019, they are anticipating more than 500,000 and 774 performances. Wagner also points to the 2019 budget growing to $28.1 million — a growth of almost $4 million over 2018 — while the organizations subsidy remains $5.3 million, which is down $600,000 from 2017.
Some critics — most notably Rob and Doug Ford when they were city councillors — have asked why Toronto should own and subsidize theatres, and other have complained that the theatres lack a coherent strategy.
“When Rob Ford and Doug had the question about what are we doing with these theatres, why don’t we sell them, I actually agreed with them. When the theatres were failing, why should the city be in this business, because with the investment they were making, they could not see the return on their investment for the money that they were spending,” Wagner says. “(But now) We can show the return on investment, and culture is important, it does things that nothing else does, and it is our mandate is to reflect the city on the stage.”
Wagner also says there is much more to do. In particular, he points to the creation of the TO Live Foundation, which will for the first time allow for the creation of a fundraising organization, and potentially start other groups that will help sustain the theatres.
“The library has a foundation, the zoo has a foundation, “ he says. “So this could help us create things we don’t have, like a young patron’s circle or a fundraising board.”