The Novotel Toronto Centre -- or “The Novotel Hotel," as it's better known among locals -- could remain a thing of the past for good. 

The Toronto hotel -- which had been a four-star staple on the patio-filled Esplanade for years -- has been functioning as a temporary city-operated homeless shelter for nearly a year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to provide additional space for physical distancing and act as an alternative to encampments. It's one of 26 temporary COVID-19 shelter and 24-hour respite sites operating in the city.

As the pandemic raged on, the City extended its lease for the shelter until April 30, 2022. It was originally set to expire this past December. With the grips of the pandemic being felt as tightly as ever in Toronto, the City's Shelter, Support & Housing Administration tells STOREYS that whether this location is extended past this date is being considered as part of the City's COVID-19 Shelter Transition and Relocation Plan, which will be implemented over the next 12 months.

Details regarding the plan will be shared in the first quarter of 2022.

Homeless shelter 3

But from the look of things, it won’t return as a Novotel brand hotel after the city’s most vulnerable pack their bags and disappear from the property, whenever that may be.

On its website, a notification says that the hotel is currently closed to guests, but will reopen spring 2022, after a "property-wide refresh and revitalization." But last week, a redevelopment proposal for 45 The Esplanade (the site of the hotel-turned-shelter) was submitted to City of Toronto planners that would see the current eight-storey building replaced with two 36-storey mixed-use buildings. 

While few details are yet available, more are expected to emerge in the coming weeks. According to the application, the redevelopment would feature a non-residential gross floor area of 8,627 square metres and a residential gross floor area of 45,407 square metres. The buildings would house a total of 682 residential dwellings, although it’s not yet known if these will be condo units or rentals.

If a go-head, what we do know is that some 200 homeless residents will need to be relocated -- something that the City says its currently planning.

"The City is developing a phased Transition and Relocation Plan out of current temporary COVID-19 sites that considers the needs of service users and ensures adequate shelter capacity is maintained," said the City's Shelter, Support & Housing Administration, when contacted by STOREYS in an email. "Public health guidance from the Province of Ontario regarding COVID-19 for congregate living settings has not changed. The timing of this transition will be based on any future changes to public health guidance, ongoing assessment of shelter demand and availability of supportive housing opportunities."

homeless shelter

Almost since opening its doors the shelter has been the subject of growing controversy and the subject of community meetings among local residents, local business owners, and the City. Common concerns include discarded needles and human faeces throughout the street, aggressive encounters, arson, and disruptive shouting and other noise. One resident’s horror stories of living in the neighbourhood even went viral on Twitter a few months back. 

As a result of the public conversations, the City implemented additional safety measures this past fall. This includes the addition of two Community Safety Team officers stationed immediately outside 45 The Esplanade every day for 12 hours per day, security personnel who perform hourly documented patrols throughout 45 The Esplanade, and two 24-hour paid-duty police officers who work to augment security inside and outside the shelter. 

Still, local residents and business owners -- at least, the ones I've spoken to -- miss the more harmonious neighbourhood they used to know.

So, while the ensuing construction, increase in traffic, and potential loss of views that come with a new development may ruffle some feathers among local residents and business owners, the sad reality is that many see a shiny new mixed-use building as a better alternative to the current shelter. 

As for The Novotel Hotel, well, we'll always have the memories.

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