As casino lobbyists and provincial officials continue to press for approval for a massive gaming/entertainment complex somewhere on Toronto’s waterfront, a downtown councillor says she wants the city to consider a distinctly different type of showcase project for the waterfront, with a bid for the 2025 World Expo.
“I think this conversation is about city building and national identity,” Kristyn Wong-Tam (Toronto Centre) said, adding that the choice between a world’s fair and a casino is “about priority setting and visioning, and where we want to be in 10 or 20 years. What will the legacy of a casino be?”
Ms. Wong-Tam said in recent weeks she has been privately soliciting input from labour and business leaders, members of council and provincial officials. She plans to introduce a motion during the June council meeting, asking city staff to prepare a report on the feasibility of making a bid for 2025, which must be submitted to the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions by 2016.
With Waterfront Toronto officials now putting the finishing touches on a revised development plan for the portlands, that vote will reveal the extent of council support for a downtown casino, currently being scrutinized by city staff. Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina) and other members of council’s left wing have spoken out against a casino and say the issue should be decided by a referendum.
But an Expo bid is also something of a gamble, both financially and politically.
During former mayor David Miller’s first term in office, Scarborough councillor Brian Ashton pushed to assemble a consortium to bid on the 2015 Expo. A 2005 feasibility study projected that the six-month event would generate 191,000 jobs, $5.6-billion in tax revenue and over 70 million visitors to the city. Subsequent staff reports cited somewhat less frothy figures.
While council approved the plan in May, 2006, the provincial Liberals and the federal Conservatives couldn’t agree on a formula to cover operating shortfalls estimated to be in the $400-million to $700-million range. Indeed, the province and a city agency spent $3-million preparing the 2015 proposal, but the deadline elapsed before the bid committee could make its submission. Milan won the 2015 competition with a proposal that focuses on sustainable food and energy.
As has been the case with previous promoters, Ms. Wong-Tam sees an Expo as an opportunity to spur economic activity and tourism, develop transit and housing infrastructure and revitalize the waterfront. She also recalled travelling as a teenager to Expo ‘86 in Vancouver and marvelling at the showcase architecture, including the fair’s geodesic dome at the end of False Creek.
“I found it to be a transformative experience. It was probably the first time I felt proud to be Canadian.” Mr. Wong-Tam was born in Hong Kong, and her family immigrated to Toronto when she was a child.) She pointed out that while the city will host World Pride Day in 2014 and the Pan Am Games in 2015, there are no current plans for other major international events. Ms. Wong-Tam also observed that, unlike high-profile sporting competitions, world’s fairs run for months, thus creating sustained international promotion for the region. “There’s a reason cities want to compete for that kind of opportunity.”
Special to The Globe and Mail