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Magical Massey Hall readies for its back-of-the-house facelift

'It’s a nice little room,' Joni Mitchell said as she stepped on stage in June to celebrate her career. A seven-year revitalization project is set to build on the voice and feel of the 120-year-old Toronto concert hall

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Toronto’s Massey Hall, shown in a 1970s photo, is on the cusp of a significant renewal plan. The concert hall, built in 1894 by industrial baron Hart Massey, will get a back-of-the-house building addition that will include basic amenities such as elevators and a loading dock. Dressing rooms, washrooms, catering facilities, office spaces and patron amenities will also be improved.

John McNeill/The Globe and Mail

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The project hinges on the gift of a 450-square-metre piece of property located directly south of Massey Hall. This gritty urban plot, currently a surface parking lot and garbage storage area, is being offered by MOD Developments Inc. ‘This gift of land is so valuable to us because we’re street-bound on the other three sides,’ says Charles Cutts, president and CEO of Corp. of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall, seen here on the gifted lot.

Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail

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MOD Developments Inc. intends to build a 60-storey condominium, called Massey Tower, in the same downtown Toronto city block. Gary Switzer, CEO of MOD, says the portion of the land he’s ceding to Massey Hall has been appraised at about $6.5-million. Toronto city council will vote on MOD’s condo proposal in mid-July. If approved, Massey Hall will likely take ownership of the small strip of land by late summer or early fall, Mr. Switzer says.

MOD Developments

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Inside the Moorish Revival-style auditorium, 57 original art nouveau-style stained glass windows, boarded up about a century ago to block out daylight and street noise, may be uncovered. The original wooden seats (some as narrow as 19 inches) and 1948 upholstered seats will be replaced and sight lines improved. At just over 2,700 seats, the hall isn’t tiny. But “when you’re on the stage, you feel as though you can reach out and touch everybody in this house,” Mr. Cutts says. “That kind of intimacy and audience-artist interchange is why this hall’s worth investing in.”

Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail

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Outside, the building’s exterior fire escapes will be removed and the masonry restored. Artists love performing there, says Jeff Craib, president of The Feldman Agency, which represents a diverse roster ranging from Diana Krall to The Tragically Hip. “It’s got the sort of aura that a Radio City or a Carnegie Hall would have. People tend to overlook what some would perceive as the blemishes… that the seats are old and it’s kind of funky in there. But that’s part of the aura of playing in a place with history.”

Massey Hall

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