Santa’s House will soon be on the move after permits required to relocate the small structure from Victoria Park were approved by the city.
The once temporary building has been sitting in the middle of the park through the COVID-19 pandemic, including through the return of the park’s festival season this summer.
After months of waiting, the house will be dismantled and transported next week to its new home outside of Covent Garden Market, where it will be used as a year-round structure, said Leo Larizza, founder of Teresina Larizza Charities Foundation, which operates Santa’s House.
“Once it’s (at) the Covent Garden Market, we’re going to repair the house so it looks like brand new again, so we’ll be spending some time. It will take about a month to get that house back to looking brand new again,” he said.
The hope, Larizza said, is to have the house repaired and open by late November in time for the festive holiday season, complete with a grand opening and a lighting of the lights display. In all, he estimates it will cost roughly $30,000 to get the house refurbished and in year-round condition.
“Instead of panelling on the walls, we’re going to have to drywall it. The outside has received some damage from being moved, so we’re going to have to fix that. New carpet, new floor…. New lighting is going to have to be put in,” he said.
Next week’s planned move comes months after it was first unveiled that the house would be relocated — a decision that came amid pressure from the city, which looked to get the land ready for a long-awaited return of the summer festival season.
The house had been a temporary attraction in the park for several years, set up every holiday season to raise money for TLC Foundation and then dismantled and put into storage, things Larizza says created a lot of structural wear and tear over time.
“What happened was COVID hit and we just couldn’t move it. COVID hit and all the regulations. In the end, it was great that the city allowed us to keep Santa’s House there all year, they didn’t have any festivals in the park, so it wasn’t really interfering,” he said.
In April, it was made public that the house would finally leave Victoria Park and moved to a spot in Rotary Square outside of the Covent Garden Market. Three months later, however, with the festival season in full swing, the house remained.
Speaking with Global News in July, Larizza said various issues had held up the move, including a May strike by the International Union of Operating Engineers, scheduling conflicts and needed permit approvals.
In an interview Tuesday, Ward 13 Coun. John Fyfe-Millar confirmed that the market received the necessary permit approvals on Friday, including for a heritage alteration permit, required as the market is a heritage property within a heritage conservation district.
“So now we have an OK to move the house. So basically what we’re doing is we will be lining things up with Leo and with a crane team to come in and crane that house out of the current location at Victoria Park and bring it over to the market,” Fyfe-Millar said.
“We would have liked to have had it moved out before the festivals came into place this year but that didn’t happen,” he said, citing issues around the permits. Once those issues got cleared up, however, “I think the process itself went pretty smoothly.”
Santa’s House will continue in that role through the holiday season. Afterwards, the house will be used as a skate rental hut for the Rotary Square skating rink in January and February, said Amy Shackleton, CEO and general manager of the Covent Garden Market.
“Then, moving on from there, to incorporate it in different events and festivals that we have out on the Rotary Square” during the rest of the year, she said. “We just wanted to keep the spirit alive and have that here for the children for the holiday season. We’re happy to be able to provide a space for it.”
Fyfe-Millar said it was his understanding that the building is also expected to be used as part of the outdoor farmers’ market.
“One of the reasons that I like the idea of it being there, it’s going to become more of a multi-use facility now for them,” he said.
“I think it’s going to work well for the market as a whole, and I think it works well, too, for Leo and his team that the house won’t have to be taken down every year. There’s a cost associated with that. And now this is a cost that they won’t have to bear.”
With the long-awaited move now in sight, Larizza admitted he had mixed emotions, calling the place in Victoria Park “a great spot for it.” He noted, however, that without the Covent Garden Market becoming involved, Santa’s House would have had an uncertain future.
“I’m happy that the Covent Garden Market stepped up and allowed us to move the house to their area, or else Santa’s House would not (have) had a home and the tradition of Santa’s House would have ended,” he said.
“I think that would have been a terrible thing for the kids, not only for the kids that visit the house, but also for the sick kids that we help out on a yearly basis.”
— with files from Kate Otterbein
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