Groundbreaking set for 2007

The groundbreaking for the Toronto Film Festival Group’s long-awaited Festival Center has been skedded– finally — for early 2007.

Group CEO Piers Handling announced the date Thursday with considerably less fanfare than four years ago, when the original plans for the group’s new home were unveiled. At that time construction was skedded to commence in 2005 or this year.

“Having now established a firm timeframe for breaking ground, we have reached a tremendous milestone in the Festival Center campaign,” said Handling. “With construction set to begin in the first quarter of 2007, we look forward to the moment when we will be moving into our new home.”

Fund-raising is a tricky business, especially in the Toronto arts community in recent years. Competition for the wallets of philanthropists has been brisk as the Toronto Film Festival Group has had to vie with fund-raisers seeking cash for a new opera house as well as renovations and expansions of the nearby Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.

A change in the federal government earlier this year has not helped matters either, as the group was left on tenterhooks until May, when the new Conservative government confirmed that it would come through with the C$25 million ($22.5 million) promised by the former Liberal government in 2005.

Group has persevered, however, raising more than $118.8 million of the total $176.4 million to date, including a $20.7 million program endowment.

In addition to the federal government’s $22.5 million, $22.5 million has come from the provincial government, $27 million from longtime fest sponsor Bell Canada and $45 million in corporate and individual donations.

Most recently, the Festival Center received $900,000 from former board member Allan Slaight, executive chair of Standard Broadcasting, and family. The BMO Financial Group has donated $450,000.

The new Festival Center will contain five theaters, an art gallery, a film reference library, educational facilities, box office and retail space. There will also be a separately funded condominium project.

Plain is to open the center’s doors in 2009.

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