As Rush lead singer Geddy Lee threw the switch yesterday to light up the big electric guitar on the new Hard Rock Cafe sign at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, local businessmen, planners and politicians were saying its glow marked the beginning of a new era for the city's busiest intersection.
Hard Rock Cafe International invested $6 million in renovations to the 23-year-old location of the Hard Rock Cafe, the first of the chain's outlets to open in North America. And no wonder: the restaurant, bar and its new second-floor nightclub will occupy prime space as the south front onto Dundas Square when it opens next July.
The newly renovated cafe is one of the anchors for the square, an open plaza covering the small block at the southeast corner of Yonge and Dundas. Dundas Square is intended to give Toronto the city centre it never had. Touted as a potential Times Square of Toronto by the Hard Rock organization, the area will do better than that, said its co-designer, James Brown of Brown & Storey Architects.
"Times Square is not a square. It's a roadway. This has more legitimacy as a square. Yonge and Dundas is unique to Toronto."
Plans for revitalization of the area began in 1994. In 1998, city council approved expropriation of buildings north and south of Dundas on Yonge St. that were re-sold to developers, including those erecting the retail/entertainment complex Metropolis on the northeast corner.
The cost of the square's construction is expected to come in at $10 million to $12 million.
The Downtown Yonge Street Business Improvement Area has contributed to the capital costs of sidewalk improvements that will brand the area with a band of black granite carried over from the square's design.
"Yonge Street was exciting 30 years ago and then it went downhill," said Brown's partner Kim Storey. "We're gaining that back."
The intersection sees the most pedestrian traffic of any area in Toronto, said Kyle Rae, city councillor for the downtown ward.
The Eaton Centre records 52 million visitors a year. The Dundas subway station is used by 70,000 people a day. And that traffic includes the students attending nearby Ryerson University.
"So with those synergies of young people and shoppers, I can see this (development) being a great opportunity for the marketing of Toronto," Rae explained.
A board of management comprising politicians and local businessmen will be in charge of programming for the square. The new space is expected to be the site for more than 300 entertainment and commercial events per year.
"It's like an event landscape," said Brown.
"It's great when people take some time and invest some energy in their own community," said Lee, pleased at the prospect of a new venue for live rock music.
"I've lived in Toronto all my life and I love living here. But I think it takes civic care and effort to make the city a place where people come downtown and stay downtown."
The Hard Rock re-launch got a suitable accompaniment with a free concert performed by Toronto band Big Sugar and a block party that attracted hundreds of people to fill the closed-down portion of Yonge St. below Dundas.
Radio Station Q107 inaugurated its regular broadcasts out of the studio in the restaurant's lobby by hosting the event live.