Toronto Council has sent the question of what to do with the iconic Sam the Record Man neon sign back to city staff to try and work out an arrangement with Ryerson University to see it properly displayed.
On Wednesday morning, councillors voted to refer the matter back after both Mayor Rob Ford and local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam urged council to slightly alter the agreement made with the city when Ryerson demolished the former record store at Yonge and Gould streets.
Ryerson had originally agreed to display the sign on the new student learning centre it’s constructing at the site – but at last month’s Toronto and East York Community Council meeting officials said the huge, purpose-built sign wouldn’t work if placed in precisely the same location.
The sign featuring a depiction of a giant, rotating vinyl record album, had been constructed in the 1960s to cover the original building, and the university had engaged a consultant who said it would be difficult to install and maintain safely.
At the time, Ryerson officials said they wanted to explore a number of options for storing or displaying the sign. Some councillors accused Ryerson of reneging on the deal.
But on Wednesday after the deferral, Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said the sign could simply be located on Gould Street on Ryerson’s library building, and doing so was within the scope of the agreement signed with the city.
“We have always been able to put it on the library,” said Levy. “We were just looking for an optimum solution. The reason is there were a number of people, ourselves included, who thought we could find a better location. We were always willing to meet the obligation of putting it on Gould Street. That was never a question.”
St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow, who had moved to simply receive the compromise report and tell Ryerson to live up to its obligation, wasn’t convinced.
“They have been saying a lot of things,” he said. “When they were at community council they were unequivocal they wanted to explore a whole range of ideas – some not even in the same neighbourhood... My concern is the future of the Sam’s sign and the message we give to institutions and developers every time we have a heritage agreement and they want to get out of it.”
Wong-Tam, meanwhile, called the referral motion “unfortunate.”
“There have been lengthy discussions involving a broad range of stakeholders,” she said. “City staff have already reported out on key recommendations... This motion sends it into a black hole and I don’t know when that’s coming back.”