Setting the record straight

Ryerson won’t have to face the music quite yet. A community council motion passed Tuesday that gives the university one more year to find a place to hang Sam the Record Man’s sign.

Toronto and East York Community Council, a committee of councillors that makes recommendations on local development to city council, voted 7-4 to pass the motion proposed by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam.

In 2008, Ryerson promised to hang the sign in return for city permission to build the new Student Learning Centre where the record store once stood.  The university has not yet followed through on the original agreement, citing health and structural concerns.

Wong-Tam’s amendment passed amidst heavy criticism of the university, most notably from Coun. Josh Matlow who said nullifying the contract with Ryerson would “set a dangerous precedent.

Wong-Tam referred to Ryerson as “a champion of heritage” and defended the school’s efforts to redisplay the neon signboard.

Matlow chastised council for having “an extremely poor record of protecting our heritage sites” and wanted to “hold Ryerson to their word.”

Ryerson expressed concerns over displaying the decades-old sign in August after it was revealed it would cost $250,000 to remount. Although the university said the cost had nothing to do with why it was bailing on its deal, it cited environmental concerns as the reason for not finding a place for Sam’s record sign.

“Restoring the sign would involve creating a hazard,” said Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s vice-president of administration and finance.

The council debated whether or not it was important to commemorate the man or the sign – Wong-Tam in favour of the former and Matlow of the latter – and what exactly was driving the debate in the first place: heritage concerns or nostalgia.

The school proposed alternative commemorative options to the city, which included a Sam the Record Man website, an eye-level plaque marking the spot where the store stood and a small-scale replica of the sign sunk into the sidewalk under the plaque.

Matlow repeatedly asked Hanigsberg and architect Mike Smith if they could prove the school ever intended to use the sign.

Hanigsberg and Smith said that it was never expressly stated in the contract that the sign had to be mounted on the new building.

When pressed by council about where they had looked to put it instead, Smith stated, “we have looked at rooftops, the sides of other buildings and hanging the sign on Gould Street. I believe we explored all possible avenues.”

Coun. Gord Perks wasn’t convinced the environmental concerns were a factor in Ryerson’s wanting to back out of the deal.

“The stuff about the sign catching fire is silly and the mercury content [of the neon lights] is grossly exaggerated,” he said.

Perks stated Ryerson’s real challenge is figuring out how to mount the sign to the building wall. The transformer needed to run the neon lights may end up being too large a load for the building as it stands designed now.

School officials admitted they underestimated the size of Toronto’s iconic turntables when they agreed to display the sign, which measures 38 feet long and 46 feet tall.

Smith went so far as to say they knew early on using the sign would be a problem.

“We weren’t sure what the solution would be, so we proceeded with regulation permits without including the sign.”

“Ryerson is one of the great institutions in Toronto,” Matlow told the Ryersonian after the hearing. “I think they are better than this and should be setting a leading example on protecting Toronto heritage for the city and the students.”

City council will review Wong-Tam’s amendment on Oct. 8.

– With files from Kim Brown

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