The Ontario government is moving ahead with its long-planned sale of the LCBO head office and surrounding land, a prime piece of real estate on the Toronto waterfront.
The province on Thursday announced a request for proposals for the 11-acre parcel. The proceeds are to be put into the Trillium Trust, which will be used to fund Premier Kathleen Wynne’s plan to build tens of billions of dollars of new public transit lines, roads and bridges.
“We expect there will be significant competition for this property,” Economic Development and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid said, standing in a park on Queen’s Quay east of Yonge Street. “We think we’re going to get very high value.”
The government has previously estimated it could rake in $200-million for the land, which includes the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s headquarters and warehouse, several parking lots, a liquor store and the park.
The sale was first announced two and a half years ago. Now, it will be part of Ms. Wynne’s broader push to sell off government assets to raise money for infrastructure construction. She is also looking to put other pieces of government real estate on the block, and has not ruled out more controversial options, including selling pieces of Crown corporations.
The request for proposals will require any buyer to provide a new head office for the LCBO and a new location for the liquor monopoly’s Queen’s Quay store.
The land, which will likely end up in the hands of a developer, sits right in the middle of Toronto’s waterfront redevelopment. The sale will be handled by Infrastructure Ontario rather than Waterfront Toronto, the tri-government agency trying to turn the area into a more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighbourhood.
The area also includes two rail spurs owned by the city of Toronto, which has a deal with Infrastructure Ontario to sell the land as part of the LCBO parcel. Under normal circumstances, such city land would be handed to Waterfront Toronto. It is not clear whether the agency will get any role in the project as a result.
But Andrew Hilton, a spokesman for Waterfront Toronto, said any development will be covered by the city’s Central Waterfront Secondary Plan, which is designed to fit with Waterfront Toronto’s urbanist objectives. The plan sets out design guidelines for buildings and other requirements, including that new developments include affordable rental housing.
“The plan applies Waterfront Toronto’s approach across the waterfront,” he said.
Mr. Duguid signalled the government’s chief objective is to get as much money as possible for the land.
“We’re treating this very much as a business decision. We need revenues to invest in public transit,” he said.
The province has owned the land for decades. Registry records show that one piece – the portion with the LCBO outlet – was purchased for $169,476 in 1950, roughly $1.7-million in today’s dollars and just a fraction of what the government says it can get for the land today.
The Progressive Conservatives said the government has not been rigorous enough in putting in laws to guarantee proceeds from the sale will be put in the Trillium Trust, instead of used to pay down the deficit.
“We’re in favour of divestment of assets throughout the province, but we want open and transparent discussion on what was received and where the money went,” PC finance critic Vic Fedeli said in an interview.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, are against asset sales of any kind: “I know it’s still hot outside, but it still doesn’t make sense to burn the furniture to heat the house,” NDP finance critic Catherine Fife said.