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Oxford CEO Blake Hutcheson says the approval of a casino is key to a timely upgrade of the convention centre. (Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail)
Oxford CEO Blake Hutcheson says the approval of a casino is key to a timely upgrade of the convention centre. (Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail)

PROPOSAL

Oxford presents case for convention centre casino Add to ...

Oxford Properties Group gave Mayor Rob Ford and city councillors a package of documents Thursday outlining why it thinks the Metro Toronto Convention Centre site is the best location for a downtown casino, emphasizing its belief that this would be the fastest route to boosting the number of convention visitors to the city.

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The package also illustrates how stakeholders are already choosing sides on who should build the casino and where it should go, if it gets approval from city council.

It includes letters that speak positively about its plans from the acting chief executive of Canada Lands Company, which owns the CN Tower, the CEO of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, the Toronto Entertainment District Residents’ Association, and the chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp. While Las Vegas Sands says that the Convention Centre site appears to be a strong fit for it, Oxford has chosen not to align itself with any specific casino operator and says it would work with whichever firm the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. chose.

The Oxford proposal comes as the executive committee is preparing to consider the city manager’s report on the casino and hear public comment at a special meeting next week. The committee remains divided on whether or not the city should be home to a casino at all, even though Mr. Ford is a proponent of the idea. The other main site under consideration is Exhibition Place, where MGM and Cadillac Fairview want to build a casino complex.

Oxford CEO Blake Hutcheson said in an interview that the approval of a casino is key to a timely upgrade of the convention centre, which is owned and operated by the province. Oxford bought the land under the north side of the convention centre in 2011, and would be the developer and then landlord of the project. Its plans include sinking the north side of the convention centre below ground, putting stores at street level, and developing a hotel, rental apartments, and office space.

“In our model the casino rent basically goes towards a complete rehab of the convention centre,” Mr. Hutcheson said. “That revenue stream is what enables us to unlock that very important component of this mixed-use development.”

The letter from the head of the Entertainment District Residents Association says the proposal offers a welcome alternative to more condo buildings.

“The residents of the Entertainment District have been overwhelmed by condo developments that add nothing to the area and only put a strain on services and infrastructure,” says the letter from Mike Yen, executive director of the residents group. It goes on to say that Oxford’s proposal provides some solutions by building office space and “badly needed” apartments, as well as dealing with local traffic congestion.

The package says that a study done for the convention centre found that if it was expanded, it would attract about 134,000 visitors each year once the project was complete. The report estimates that would produce an additional $392-million of direct spending by convention delegates, exhibitors and organizers, which would roughly double the current level of spending.

Oxford’s brochure says its project would create more on-going jobs, construction jobs and investment than a casino project at Exhibition Place would, cranking up the battle with MGM and Cadillac Fairview, who have been more vocal about their proposal at the Ex.

Mr. Hutcheson said there has been chatter that the city might choose just one site to proceed with, but he would like to see an open and competitive formal process through which competing bidders could make their case.

“If the city would like to proceed – and we accept if they do not – but if they elect to proceed, there should be a fair and transparent process that allows people to professionally bid the two sites, or more if there are more to be considered – and that’s all we ask for,” he said. “A grey process isn’t in anybody’s interest.”

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