ROM to revamp Bloor St. entrance with greenery, outdoor performance venue

Museum says $5-million exterior overhaul meant to offer a hub where visitors feel “engaged and invited.”

Originally posted in the Toronto Star by 

The Royal Ontario Museum wants visitors to relish being outside the Toronto institution as much as being in it.

The museum announced this week it’s giving its Bloor St. W. entranceway a facelift, complete with greenery and an outdoor performance venue, slated to be finished in early 2019.

The aim is to create a beautified, civic-centred hub in the heart of the city, “a space that says, we at the ROM want you here, engaged and invited,” said Josh Basseches, the ROM’s director and CEO, on Tuesday, adding construction hoarding for the $5 million project is already up.

He said the area around the unmissable Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, while “handsome,” is underutilized.

“It’s a lot of hardscape and there’s not a lot for people to do,” he said.

The plan for the roughly 5,500-square-foot area is twofold: a landscaped area with benches called the Reed Family Plaza; and an event space, which will be used for lectures and performances, Basseches said. The latter has been deemed the Helga and Mike Schmidt Performance Terrace.

“We want to make it a space that harmonizes as meaningfully as possible with its surroundings and connects the crystal and what’s inside the building with what’s outside,” he said.

Briar de Lange, executive director of the Bloor-Yorkville BIA, welcomed the initiative, noting green spaces are few and far between for the area’s high foot traffic. The square nearby, the Village of Yorkville Park, is overwhelmed, she said.

She added the crystal became a major focal point when it was built, but what was left was a lack of purposeful exterior space for people “to sit on a bench and chill.”

“Their streetscape was a little bit bleak, so I think this adds a whole new life to the outside courtyard area. Overall, I think it’s a really positive thing. It will keep the streetfront animated,” she said.

The development is part of the museum’s Welcome Project, an initiative established to up the ante of the community engagement file. Its first phase, pegged at $3.5 million and completed last December, revamped the Weston Entrance on Queen’s Park.

“They’re both ways of saying, let us make our wonderful civic outdoor space along these important avenues of Queen’s Park and Bloor St. engaging for the public and spaces they want to be in,” Basseches said.

“It’s part of a larger strategic vision for the museum and a place where people can come and go, as civic gathering spot, as an area that’s vital and relevant to people’s lives.”