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Councillor Doug Ford listens to a presentation during a committee meeting on the city's waterfront plans on Sept. 6, 2011, at Toronto City Hall. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Councillor Doug Ford listens to a presentation during a committee meeting on the city's waterfront plans on Sept. 6, 2011, at Toronto City Hall. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

REDEVELOPMENT

Ford vows Port Lands remake within a decade Add to ...

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is vowing to make his vast makeover of the Port Lands a reality within a decade, saying the city can’t wait a quarter of a century to see redevelopment of the eastern harbour.

Lavish conceptual drawings commissioned by a city agency and endorsed by the mayor were made public Tuesday and include the much-anticipated Ferris wheel and mega-mall, as well as a few surprises. What the presentation did not include was a price tag for the remake or a plan for how it will be financed – those details were promised in a report in the next six months.

“We now have a plan. It is absolutely phenomenal,” Mayor Ford told reporters. “We are going to revitalize the Port Lands like you have never seen before.”

The elaborate drawings are the latest move in a bid by the Ford administration to kick-start development on the vast area at the mouth of the Don River, former industrial land that is under the control of Waterfront Toronto, a partnership among three levels of government.

The mayor and his brother, Etobicoke Councillor Doug Ford, have made no secret of their displeasure with Waterfront Toronto and its plan for the Port Lands – endorsed by the former council. That plan would create a new community in the area over the next two decades centred around a riverside park and a new naturalization outlet for the Don River – a design Councillor Ford says would remove 36 hectares of valuable land from possible development.

Their alternative, as envisioned by London-based architect Eric Kuhne in a presentation Tuesday, includes a revamped Hearn generating station topped with an observation deck where the smokestack now stands, as well as a ring of parks – what Mr. Kuhne described as an “emerald necklace” that links existing green space and playing fields in the Port Lands. It also includes a waterfront Ferris wheel, new moorings for yachts and several high-rise developments, the site of what Mr. Kuhne estimated will be 45,000 new jobs and between 25,000 to 30,000 new homes.

Cherry trees would line Cherry Street as well as a new roundabout on that street. The mouth of the Don would follow the path of the existing channel and a green “spillway” would be built – a park that would be flooded when water levels rise.

The mayor’s plan moved one step closer Tuesday with the backing of the city’s executive committee for handing the waterfront land to Toronto Port Lands Co., the city agency that commissioned the conceptual drawings. The motion will be considered later this month at city council.

Even as the mayor threw his support behind the vision, Mr. Kuhne said his drawings should not be regarded as a plan, but a “collection of ideas.”

“What we have tried to do is collect them all together and tried to arrange a banquet of new possibilities,” he told reporters. “It’s not a plan. It’s just a collection of powerful ideas that came to us and what we tried to do is arrange the banquet table so that there’s a place for everybody.”

Opponents of the mayor and his plan were not convinced, arguing that the scale of the project and the need for a flood-control plan before any ground is broken means the mayor can not meet his ambitious timeline. They also questioned the awarding of a contract to Mr. Kuhne by Toronto Port Lands Co. without a competitive bidding process or the knowledge of council.

“I never asked you to do business with us,” rookie Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon said to Mr. Kuhne. “I’m confused why we are here today and why we are discussing this.”

John Campbell, chief executive officer of Waterfront Toronto, said his agency’s board will consider Wednesday a business plan for its development and flood-control proposal for the Port Lands, which carries a price tag of more than $600-million. If approved, he said he will share it with council.

An environmental assessment on that proposal has been put on hold by the provincial Ministry of the Environment at the request of the city. Mr. Campbell said with that approval, development could start in some areas of the Port Lands but cautioned that any development needs to be phased to keep pace with market demand.

“You can only go as fast as the market can absorb units,” he said. “You have to be careful not to dilute land value.”

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