PHOENIX RISING:  The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto is closing in January but hopes to find a new downtown Toronto home. (Courtesy venue)


The stories came flooding out on social media when Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre announced that the building it had occupied at 410 Sherbourne Street for 33 1/3 years — originally under the name The Diamond Club — would be demolished to make way for much needed “residential housing,” yet another condo development.  

Fortunately, also came word that co-owners Lisa Zbitnew and Zeke Myers are actively looking for a new spot, with help from the city of Toronto, meaning the 1,200-capacity venue that has hosted everyone from The Rolling Stones and the Ramones to Billie Eilish and Post Malone may soon rise again.

The venue will close in January 2025, sent off with a “Final Spin” series of concerts, yet to be announced, celebrating the 33 ⅓ years anniversary. The number ties into the number of times a full size LP spins per minute.

Zbitnew, a trailblazer in the Canadian music industry who in the 1990s became the first female president of a major label in Canada, BMG (1996-2007), then Sony BMG (2004-2007), also owns Ottawa, Ontario’s Bronson Centre Music Theatre, just shy of 1,000 capacity. That venue is housed in a converted Catholic school auditorium, the former home of Immaculata High School, so she thinks outside the box.

She tells VenuesNow they want the new Phoenix Concert Theatre to remain downtown, close to transit, and they are in talks with multiple people to find a new location. Don’t be surprised to see her peeking in some windows on her drives around the city. 

VenuesNow: How are you feeling since the announcement?

Lisa Zbitnew: I’ve had a little bit of time to absorb it. Obviously, I’m as dismayed as every other music fan who’s spent the better part of 30 years going to see shows (there). The day it went out and the days after, the outpouring has been so heartwarming, both people sharing memories and favorite shows and wishing us well and thanking us for taking good care of them. It’s helping manifest in my brain what the future looks like. 

Why is it important to you to find another space and keep the name going?

This size capacity, 1,200, is critical for artists that are up and coming. It’s also a placeholder for artists that reach this level and maintain and come through every year, every couple of years, when bigger venues aren’t necessarily where they’re at any longer in their lifespan.There are a few venues in this wheelhouse, but not a lot, considering we are the fourth largest touring market in North America. There’s room for many more. Maintaining venues that are Canadian, and independently owned, is important for the market. Because we have the help of the city, I’m feeling fairly confident.

It is exciting too to find a dream space. Being in a venue for decades, there must have been upgrades that were needed, repairs to be done. What’s your wish for the next locale?

Yeah, it’d be nice to not have to fix something every week. It’s an old building, but I often say, ‘We may not be the prettiest girl at the dance, but we’ve got the biggest personality.’

When people walk into a live venue space, the amenities are important, but we don’t need a $5 million lobby. We put our investment into the show experience. Everybody’s coming in and they’re looking at the stage and how does it sound and how does it look? For us, it’s about can we provide the best fan experience possible, while watching the show? It requires high ceilings and a space around 20,000 square feet. Parking is always a benefit and amenities for the bands, in terms of bus lanes and loading docks. A long rectangular black room is a good enough place to start. If we don’t have to start from scratch, that’s also good, because putting all those things in can take time and a lot of investment. 

The Phoenix is a private business. Is it unusual for the local government to get involved?

It probably is — not just in the U.S., but other Canadian markets as well, because we are a for-profit company. Toronto, several years ago, laid its claim to being Music City and recognized that we can’t maintain that without having venues for live music. It’s been long, ongoing conversations because we did see the inevitability of this space being developed. We didn’t think it would be quite this fast, but glad we got a jump on it. 

What is salvageable in the move? Will you be taking the theater sign with you?

We’ll see about taking the sign. We don’t know what’s going to be available in terms of the façade of our next space. We’ll be taking the PA and the lighting rig and a lot of the furniture.  We just put in brand new HVAC last year, so I’ll probably take a couple of really big air conditioners (laughs).

Will there be a big farewell party?

33 1/3 years can’t really be celebrated with one party. We are going to soon announce the 33 1/3 anniversary, “The Final Spin.” We already have 15 shows of artists coming back. The outpouring last week was not just amongst the fans. We’ve heard from at least a dozen artists that have said they really want to play there before it closes. So we’re going to have a full calendar of things that are show-based. I’m going to call and ask for some favorsWe’re going to make sure people that have had the Phoenix as part of their lives, that there’s going to be a different grand finale for every music fan.