Exploring the night economy – opportunity or threat for Leaside?

A nightclub or two in the Leaside Business Park, anybody? Staff photo.
A nightclub or two in the Leaside Business Park, anybody? Staff photo.

-The “night economy” refers to all economic activities occurring between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., extending well beyond just nightclubs and bars. This sector includes late-night eateries, retail outlets, cultural spots, entertainment venues, fitness centres, social clubs, and co-working spaces, along with necessary services like transportation and security. A robust night economy exemplifies a city’s vibrancy offering round-the-clock opportunities for work, leisure, and cultural enrichment.

Taking a page from the World Economic Forum’s playbook, as downtown cores and business districts look to rebound post-pandemic, “the night-time economy is often an overlooked pathway for revitalization… [and] cities prepared to take the steps required to tap into their unrealized economic potential and rethink the way they operate, while enhancing services at all hours of the day, will experience accelerated recoveries.”

In the fall of 2023, the City of Toronto embarked on an exploration of its night economy to discover innovative ways to utilize spaces and enhance nighttime livability for those working or seeking cultural and social experiences after dark. A flourishing night economy could significantly drive economic growth, contributing to Toronto’s GDP and enriching the city’s urban life. It creates jobs that are not limited to conventional daytime hours and fosters greater community engagement through diverse activities.

Upon completion of its review, Toronto’s City Council, at December’s meeting, voted to adopt amendments to the licensing and zoning bylaws that lay the groundwork for potentially transformative changes. City Council aims to grow the city’s night economy over the next three years by building “a foundation that encourages a vibrant nightlife by supporting talented artists and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and spurring economic growth for Toronto.”

Nightlife in Leaside?

Designed to “activate night culture in new ways and give a boost to the City of Toronto’s Night Economy,” the newly adopted changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2025. Some of the changes include:

  • -Expanding permitted nightclub areas to commercial zones city-wide (previously restricted to the entertainment district).
  • -Increasing the permitted maximum area bars and restaurants can use for entertainment to 25% of the interior floor area (up from 6%).
  • -Modernizing licensing and zoning rules for bars, restaurants, nightclubs, arcades, entertainment venues, retail food stores, and places of assembly.

This initiative mirrors efforts in cities like Montreal, Vancouver, New York, and London, which are also pushing to boost economic and cultural activity by making smarter use of vacant spaces after dark.

Curious to understand what this might mean for Leaside, I attended Toronto’s inaugural “Night Economy Town Hall” held at the Beanfield Centre in January, which drew stakeholders from Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and various associations, alongside professionals from the entertainment, tourism, and hospitality sectors.

In support, Mayor Chow said, “Toronto is a world-class city that can be as vibrant, accessible and safe after dark as it is during the daylight hours. Thank you to City staff for coming together and taking a thoughtful and holistic approach to an opportunity that will better support businesses that operate in the evening hours while recognizing this work must lead with safety, inclusivity and courtesy.”

Nightlife in Leaside? Leaside currently hosts a handful of establishments that remain open past 11 p.m., but the potential for more is palpable – I can count the current ones on just two hands. The only thing “popping” in Leaside after dark is popcorn in the microwave! Well maybe not just yet, but in 2025? Councillor Paul Ainslie, the Mayor’s designated “Night Economy Champion,” said, “We want to get this right and unlock Toronto’s nightlife…so we can build more vibrant, economically viable and complete communities beyond the downtown.”

Leaside’s potential nighttime transformation

Expert opinions, like those of Rebecca Godfrey from CBRE Tourism Consulting Canada, suggest that flexible regulatory frameworks could make it easier for property owners to experiment with nighttime uses of their existing, and often underused spaces, potentially transforming underused areas into vibrant nighttime venues. “There are several offices where they have the workday, then at 5 p.m., part of the building becomes a nightclub. [Furthermore], having public spaces, public transportation, and commercial activities activated 24/7 can make a neighbourhood feel safer and more inclusive.”

A nightclub or two in the Leaside Business Park, anybody? How about a few businesses on Bayview morphing into something completely different after hours? Will the City support 24/7 operations to support round-the-clock activities at Leaside Gardens or Trace Manes CC? Will the transit-oriented community envisioned for the Ontario Line’s Thorncliffe Park station hold the keys to unlock the night? Only time will tell.

The question remains: will Leaside and similar neighbourhoods support continuous, round-the-clock activities to become top nighttime destinations in Toronto? Even though the number of residents in the area could double over the next 10 years, without a viable market and a solid business model, Leaside’s entrepreneurs and property owners may not bite. Another wildcard to watch will be the rise of Generation Z and the role “third places” will play in their lives…one which could be markedly different from generations before.

Should the City’s night economy strategy succeed, the creative energy new ventures bring could revitalize local areas, spur job creation, and enrich the urban experience. This transformation would foster community engagement and contribute to the social connections that strengthen our sense of community.

Quality of life is closely related to our surrounding environments. Do you think a burgeoning night economy would be an improvement or a detriment for Leaside? Let us know at .

About Glenn Asano 59 Articles
Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.