Estonian Centre Project Update - April 4 community information session wraps up on a positive note with results from fund-raising feasibility study

The fourth community information session in the series that began on January 31 ended on a highly positive note with results from a well-received feasibility study into potential funding support for the new centre.

The sessions, held at the Estonian House, were presented to update the community on the proposed development of the new Estonian Centre on Madison Avenue in downtown Toronto.

About 70 members of the Estonian community attended the session on April 4 to hear updates and ask questions of the project team.

Estonian Centre Project volunteer Maris-Ann Vanaselja, who is also a Director with the Estonian Foundation of Canada, started the session with remarks on her involvement with the work that is underway and, in particular, her role as coordinator of the community consultation sessions.

“I have to say that these consultations have been very inspiring in how collaborative our community truly is; how people with different views can share their opinions in a respectful manner; how people are willing to accept situations to imagine alternatives; how people listen to each other and continue to support our community efforts.

I believe that we can build a new Centre that brings our community’s hearts and people together and sustains our culture and activities for years to come,” she said.

Maris-Ann thanked the many user groups, attendees and volunteers who participated in the consultations.

(Full text of Maris-Ann’s comments appears elsewhere in this publication and on the project website at

Fund-raising feasibility study shows strong results

Fund-raising consultant Mark Gryfe, President of Gryfe Philanthropic Solutions, was engaged by the Estonian Centre Project Steering Committee to conduct the feasibility study and he brought very good news to the community in his presentation.

Mark has 40 years of experience in conducting high-profile fund-raising campaigns including the Baycrest and Mt. Sinai Hospital Foundations.

The purpose of his work for the Estonian Centre Project was to gauge fundraising support, identify potential campaign leadership, identify potential lead donors and gauge the ability to raise funds in Toronto and beyond.

Mark developed a “case for support” document in consultation with the Steering Committee and presented it to approximately 20 potential donors.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive,” Mark noted in his remarks. “People loved the architecture, they could see it as a wonderful place to meet friends and envisioned that it would a hub for Estonian culture and activities.”

The people he interviewed also commented on the strength of the fact that the four organizations leading the project have come together with the common goal of developing the new centre (Tartu College, Estonian House, Estonian Foundation of Canada and the Estonian Credit Union).

Mark also presented some good-natured insights on the characteristics of the Estonian community that he gleaned from his interviews. He said that Estonians generally have tremendous pride in their culture and community; that they have deep-rooted respect for the past and for those who built today’s community; that they are courageous, steadfast and resilient and they are often highly educated, intelligent and high achievers.

He also elicited a few chuckles when he noted that Estonians can also be slow to change, stubborn, strongly opinionated and frugal.

One of the overwhelmingly positive results of the study showed that a total of 89 per cent of the respondents interviewed said they would give to the new centre.

“This is off the charts high,” Mark said.

He concluded his presentation by stating that he has no doubt that it would be possible to raise the funds required to help make the new centre a reality. Indeed, Mark noted that with a lead donor identified, with a gift of $3 million, securing the $5 million in donor contributions necessary to move forward is “most definitely achievable.”

An article with further details on Mark’s study and results will appear on and in next week’s Eesti Elu.

Design update:

Project architect Alar Kongats has been an integral part of the community consultation sessions, which have now wrapped up.

“We are getting down to brass tacks now,” he noted. “The consultation meetings have provided a lot of detailed and very valuable information that we are processing and incorporating into our design plans.”

He said it has been interesting to note how Estonians say they are frugal and careful by nature in their financial approach, yet most groups made it clear that the new centre should be world-class in how its facilities are designed.

“We also learned that the spaces need to work in a number of ways as there are multiple user groups who will be using the centre.”

The feedback from the consultation groups will be compiled into a Statement of Requirements that Alar and his team will be referencing as they rework the design plans. The expectation is to share the revised design with the groups for their feedback prior to the summer.

Project management details:

Project Manager David Kalm updated the community on the planning and progress to date. The Broadview property is conditionally sold and the zoning process is starting with the city to improve the height and density of the site.

Since the purchaser is a provider of senior care services, it is hoped that this is viewed by city planners as a palatable use for the property and that the zoning process will go smoothly.

“People are tired of condo after condo,” David noted. “This is a much more desirable use of this property.”

Regarding the Madison property, the site plan application has been submitted to the city.

“This has presented a tremendous amount of work by Alar and his team,” David said.

This process also includes study of the application by the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) since the centre is located close to the subway. Altogether, this work is expected to take about nine months to complete.

Another area the project team is studying in great detail is sustainability for the new centre – in other words, making sure the numbers all work.

There are two primary sources of revenue for the building: third party leases and event revenue.

The event revenue presents a considerable opportunity and this is being examined to further develop the sustainability model and business plan. Events such as weddings, for example, can be extremely lucrative and the unique space available (for example, the roof terrace) at the centre will be appealing to potential renters.

The idea will be to prioritize and balance the needs of the community with revenue opportunities. It is expected there will be certain blackout periods when the centre cannot be rented because it will be in regular use for community activities.

The availability of top-notch audio-visual services will be key in attracting this business.

A business plan committee has been formed to look at this in more detail.

The project team and legal committee is also continuing to examine and review legal issues, such as the centre’s ownership structure, governance, tax management and charitable status.

Please note: Stay tuned for a notice of an upcoming information session, to be held before the summer months, to provide updates and progress to the community.

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