A frustrated downtown Toronto restaurant owner is flipping off the King Street transit pilot project with a block of ice.
Al Carbone, owner of the Kit Kat Italian Bar and Grill, told Global News his business has been negatively impacted by the King Street transit pilot project and placed a large ice sculpture of a hand showing the middle finger outside of his restaurant, a move he said is in response to the project.
Carbone said the sculpture was installed Friday evening after a meeting at city hall between Mayor John Tory and business stakeholders. The sculpture also has the words “fuddle duddle,” which is a historical reference to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who said he made that comment when he was accused of mouthing a profanity.
“Well they think that sculptures and flame-throwers are going to fill our restaurants after they destroyed the vibrancy of King Street,” Carbone said when asked about why he had the sculpture made.
“No respect for small business, so no respect for city hall.”
Earlier this week, Mayor John Tory also announced a promotional event for the area’s restaurants and a write-in contest for suggestions on how to use the public space to the side of the street to “animate” the test area. Among the ways to increase activity in the area, officials proposed putting in art installations and bringing in street performers.
On Friday, the City of Toronto announced the parking authority has opened up 90 new spaces and offered two hours of free parking in Green P street parking spots and parking lots on side streets around the test zone. They’re also promising to launch an advertising campaign to let people know King Street is still open for business.
Carbone, who has been in business since 1980, said he’ll add new sculptures after this one melts in an effort to convey the importance of small business.
“We employ people, we’re the backbone of the city, we’re the backbone of the country, we have a lot of expenses and we need people to fill our restaurants like they were,” he said.
While recently-released results for the second month of the city’s controversial experiment show increases in streetcar ridership and improved travel times within the area between Bathurst and Jarvis streets, business owners said they’ve taken a huge hit to their bottom lines. Particularly in December, a period they said is traditionally one of their busiest months.
“We went to our credit card processing company. They looked at the eating establishments from Bathurst all the way to Simcoe … and it came out to about 41.2 per cent decline year on year,” Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said.
The pilot project only allows cars to drive for a block on most stretches of King Street before they’re forced to turn right and get off, therefore giving TTC streetcars priority.
Stakeholders want the City of Toronto to lift those restrictions between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays, as well as all day on weekends. The City didn’t agree to that, but officials aren’t ruling it out yet either. They have asked for time to allow staff to assess the impact of such a change on transit schedules.
Councillor Joe Cressy, who represents one of the areas affected, said he understands things haven’t been ideal for everyone involved, but that finding a solution that benefits both transit and business will take some time.
“You have the largest surface-level transit route in the city, which was over-congested — that’s not a winning solution,” Cressy said.
“In a city with one-third of all the jobs located in the downtown core, 51 per cent of the GDP generated in the downtown core, a quarter of the city’s tax base produced in the downtown core, meanwhile people can’t get in and out.”
However, many on Toronto city council said the potential gains aren’t worth the pain.
“We screwed up … we should unscrew it and make sure that we put back what was there,” Jim Karygiannis said.
“By killing business, you’re not servicing anyone in the city of Toronto. In fact, you’re going to be killing the city of Toronto and not making it any better,” Giorgio Mammoliti added.
Mayor John Tory was not available for an interview with Global News after Friday’s meeting.