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Premier Mike Harris has selected a going-away present to give Toronto — the land for a $100 million opera house at the corner of Queen and University.
Sources say the Harris government has already given approval to a deal under which the federal government would contribute $25 million to the project and the province, in lieu of matching funds, would contribute the land for the opera house. The city would contribute zoning and air rights worth about $5 million.
The decision to hand over the prized downtown site clears the final, crucial hurdle for the opera house, a project that has been on-again, off-again for more than a decade.
Under a previous agreement made five years ago, the Ontario government was going to sell the site (currently a parking lot across from Osgoode Hall) to the opera company for $16 million. That deal fell apart two years ago because Queen's Park claimed the opera company did not have a firm commitment of support from the federal government.
Details of the city's contribution also remain to be settled.
Within the next month or two, the Ontario government is expected to announce hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for several arts projects under its SuperBuild program. But in order to win provincial support, applicants have to earn matching grants from the federal government under its infrastructure program. Both levels of government are said to favour cultural attractions that would most dramatically contribute to Toronto's strength in relation to U.S. cities.
Normally federal funding would be conditional on matching funds from the province, but in the case of the opera house, as The Star reported in November, Ottawa offered to make an exception and allow the province to contribute the land in lieu of cash.
The total amount of money needed to build the opera house is about $134 million, counting project costs and an endowment fund, but not counting the value of the land.
At least $20 million of that would come from O&Y Properties, which plans to build an office tower next to the opera house.
The opera company still faces raising a large amount of money privately.
Bradshaw's goal is to move into the new opera house during the 2004-2005 season, in time to open the last two parts of his ambitious staging of Richard Wagner's four-part, 15-hour Ring Cycle there.