A highly anticipated report on ways to speed up development in Toronto’s Port Lands and create parkland at the mouth of the Don River won’t be ready until September, raising the possibility a waterfront casino will influence those plans.
City staff and Waterfront Toronto were expected to deliver their findings next month to Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee, including recommendations on how to develop the vast stretch of waterfront on the city’s eastern inner harbour and the best way to pay for it.
The report also will provide alternatives for naturalizing the mouth of the Don River that would leave more room for development and cost less than the $634-million price tag of the original, award-winning plan.
Instead, staff confirmed late Wednesday they need a summer extension to finalize their business plan and have those numbers vetted by an outside expert, as requested last fall by city councillors. Their findings will go to the executive committee in September and council in October.
“We were just running out of time to do a proper job,” deputy city manager John Livey said. “It is a complicated, large area. We had to do consultations with the community. There are some very technical issues that have to be resolved around the design of the naturalization of the river course. It takes time.”
Saving time is what the study is all about – the result of a council compromise last fall after Councillor Doug Ford failed in his efforts to have the city take control of developing the mostly derelict land from Waterfront Toronto. Mr. Ford was frustrated with the agency’s lengthy development timeline, arguing the site was an overlooked city treasure. He presented an alternative plan for development that included a megamall, monorail and Ferris wheel.
Reached Wednesday, Mr. Ford would not discuss the report – or the potential for a waterfront casino on the Port Lands. Asked about the delay of a report meant to speed up development, his response was: “I’d rather do it right.”
Councillor Paula Fletcher, who represents an east-end ward that includes the Port Lands, said she will be asking staff to make an interim report of their findings to the July council meeting.
Ontario’s lottery corporation pinpointed the Toronto waterfront including the Port Lands as one of four potential sites for a new casino in the GTA. Against that backdrop, Ms. Fletcher said she is fearful that the delay will give big-name casino operators and major developers an extra three months of “heavy lobbying” for a Port Lands casino.
“I think the public may well perceive that some of this work may be derailed,” Ms. Fletcher said. “Ferris wheels, monorails, megamalls – people felt very strongly about that. I don’t think the casino added in is going to fly.”
Mr. Livey dismissed any suggestion that the possibility of a casino development was a factor in the delay. “We have not been concerning ourselves with the casino,” he said.
Alternate designs for the mouth of the Don River, estimated to save between $100-million and $150-million, are expected to include a more narrow riverside park and a green space that will act as a spillway to carry overflow from the river to the shipping channel to the south.
Mr. Livey said the preliminary designs released in March have been modified to reflect the suggestions made at public meetings and by two stakeholder groups. A final public meeting on the report will be held Thursday night.
John Wilson, a long-time Don River advocate and a member of the groups consulted as part of the study, said even with revisions, plans for the river mouth lack detail and would cut green space by about 20 per cent. “It is hard to say what the revitalization would look like,” he said. “There are still a lot of questions to be answered.”