Woodbine Live – the billion-dollar development Mayor Rob Ford promised would bring thousands of jobs to a needy corner of the city – is dead.
The 180-acre proposed retail and entertainment project on property adjacent to the Woodbine race course in North Etobicoke has often been used by Mr. Ford as proof of his ability to attract investment.
But differences between the owners of the massive site – racetrack operator Woodbine Entertainment Group – and their development partner The Cordish Cos, have brought an end to the venture.
Jane Holmes, a spokeswoman for the racetrack operator, said Woodbine remains committed to developing the property and is looking for a new partner.
“Our formal arrangements with Cordish have come to an end,” she told The Globe and Mail. “We are free to have a new development partner to move this forward.”
Ms. Holmes would not discuss details of the legal settlement between the two parties, but confirmed that the “Live” label for the project belongs to Baltimore-based Cordish and can no longer be used for the Toronto development.
The end of the partnership comes as Woodbine is vying to be the site of a new Toronto casino. The racetrack is home to slot machines run by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., but wants to expand the operation to become a full casino.
Ms. Holmes said the entire 680-acre site owned by the racetrack operator is the largest parcel of undeveloped land in the city. Now that its ties are severed with Cordish, she said Woodbine is free to negotiate with casino operators and developers for an integrated casino resort.
“We have our options open,” she said.
Cordish did not respond to a request for comment.
The proposed Woodbine Live development was expected to bring as many as 9,000 jobs to the area, and city council agreed to tax incentives to kick-start the project – envisioned as a tourist destination with shopping streets, a hotel, restaurants, nightclubs and entertainment. A proposed second phase would include office and residential development.
Those tax incentives, which will expire in October, 2014, if the first 800,000 square feet of development is not complete, also are now in jeopardy.
Mike Williams, head of economic development for the city, said it is difficult to imagine how Woodbine could meet the deadline. “It would be extremely challenging,” he said.
Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, still says there is a chance.
“They have to get moving,” he said. “We are all over these guys, outside bringing the bricks down and building ourselves. They need to move forward on this.”