Friday, 20 April 2012 00:00
Four years of work is coming to a head since it was announced at the annual general meeting in 2007 that the Eesti Maja board would begin to address the issue of creating a new Eesti Maja (EM2). An enormous amount of work has gone on since then, including extensive research and analysis of options, investigations by experts, presentations by interested parties and two formal community engagement meetings to get community input. This has triggered many ideas, but the one clear realisation is that there is no obvious or easy answer.
The Eesti Maja Tuleviku Komittee has been the focal point of all this activity and has not taken their responsibility lightly. Careful consideration was required to balance the list of essential items critical to the community such as class-rooms and event space with the requirement to be self sustaining and appealing. Finding the right balance between wants and the viability of the ideas was always the most challenging question. The result of these investigations was presented at the second Community Engagement meeting in Sept. 2011, but questions still remained. From there it was determined that the required next step was to further validate the viability of the ideas via a thorough and formal real-estate analysis.
To this end, with financial support from Toronto Eesti Ühispank and Eesti Sihtkapital Kanadas, the Eesti Maja juhatus hired the world class real-estate advisory firm Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) to conduct an in-depth viability and financial analysis of the top options and advise us on the best path forward. The determination that the current EM building is no longer viable and will not carry us much farther was fully confirmed.
However, while the building is obsolete, the property is a very valuable and attractively located asset, especially in light of the deficit of good development land in Toronto. It is clear that harnessing the value of this property is the key to achieving our vision of EM2. The recommendation from our advisors is to leverage the developer's demand for our property as the opportunity to harness the resources and creativity of the Toronto real-estate development community to help solve our problem. The way to do this is by publicly and formally soliciting proposals via a Request for Proposal (RFP) to partner with a developer to build a new mixed-use project on the exiting site (including a new Eesti Maja), or potentially linking the sale of the property to get us a new Eesti Maja built nearby with any surplus funds applied to a fund to ensure that EM2 continues to be sustainable and viable for the next 50 years. The RFP approach will ensure that we maximize the value of our asset, and that all ideas going forward will be presented as fully developed actionable proposals. It will also help ensure that all ideas are properly comparable against any other proposals that may be forthcoming. When this is complete, the community and shareholders will have clear options and can then decide on the best proposal to fulfill our needs for EM2.
While the exact path is still to be determined by way of the RFP, the goal is clear: EM2 will be a home for Toronto eestlus for the next 50 years. At this year's annual general meeting, the C&W analysis will be presented and the board will seek approval from the shareholders to take the next big step and solicit actionable proposals from all interested parties via an Request For Proposal (RFP).
The majority of us no doubt imagines an Eesti Maja: 1) that we can be proud of, which is inviting to all of us, young, old and new; 2) which fulfills our needs today and in 50 years time; 3) which reflects Estonian tastes, sensibilities and culture; 4) as an example of unique architecture; 5) which is modern; 6) whose uses are flexible; 7) which is "green", i.e. environmentally friendly; and 8) manageable. The current Eesti Maja does not meet any of these criteria. Except perhaps "unique" architecture... Certainly a one of a kind historic conglomeration, reflecting an eclectic past and lots of caring, helping hands.
Come out on April 25th to hear the presentation and get ready to help. See you there!
Estonian House Board