Cadillac Fairview Corp., the property arm of the giant Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan, is entering the race for a Toronto casino, teaming up with MGM Resorts in its efforts to bring a gaming development to Exhibition Place.
The alliance, a 50-50 joint venture with the Nevada-based casino operator announced Thursday, marks the first foray into the gaming industry by one of the country's largest landlords – best known for its portfolio of blue-chip shopping centres and bank towers.
News of the partnership comes as city politicians wrestle with the question of whether to say yes to a casino in the downtown, and where the best site for such a facility would be. A report to Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee in March is expected to focus on three sites – Exhibition Place, the Port Lands or the Metro Convention Centre – with council set to debate the question in April.
As those dates draw near, pressure from both sides of the issue is mounting. Senior executives from both MGM and the Las Vegas Sands have been in Toronto in the past two weeks to pitch their casino plans to a Bay Street audience, and three former Toronto mayors penned an open letter this week, advising the mayor and councillors that a casino is not in the best interest of the city.
The provincial gaming agency wants to put a casino in the Toronto region, but has said it will not force one on an unwilling community. Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne emphasized that point to reporters Thursday, saying local governments should be left to decide how that consultation takes place.
Asked if she backs OLG's plan to expand gaming in the province, Ms. Wynne gave a less-than-enthusiastic response. "You all know that I'm not a fan of casinos. I'm not a fan of gambling. We have them and they are here. And municipalities have to weigh the pros and cons and they have to make a decision for themselves ..."
about whether they want a casino or not."
Mr. Ford, who favours a casino on city-owned property because of the extra revenue the city will collect as landlord, was not swayed by the letter this week from former mayors David Crombie, John Sewell and Art Eggleton.
"I completely disagree with them," Mr. Ford told reporters. "If a casino can bring in 10,000 good-paying jobs like they are saying it can and bring in $150- $200-million, I'm definitely going to support it and I can't see why any other council member couldn't support it. That's a win-win for everyone."
Others aren't so sure. Councillor Ana Bailao, a centrist who represents a ward near Exhibition Place, said questions remain about the kind of impact a multibillion-dollar casino resort of the sort envisioned for Toronto will have on businesses, traffic and planning.
"Honestly, Cadilac Fairview, whoever the developer is, it doesn't mean anything to me if they're not able to give me answers on these issues," she said.
Ms. Bailao said council can't be expected to decide if it wants a casino in April without all the information, indicating she could not support one if questions remain. "We shouldn't rush the City of Toronto into a decision like this. I think there is a lot of due diligence to be done here."
Cadillac Fairview's head of development, Wayne Barwise, said an integrated casino resort would reinvigorate Exhibition Place and could enhance existing uses. The partners said plans for the site are in the "preliminary stages" and they are not ready to release drawings.
Last fall, Oxford Properties, which owns the north convention centre on Front Street, made public its plans to expand the site with a casino development. Oxford has not publicly picked a casino partner for its property, although the Las Vegas Sands and Caesars say they are interested in the site.
The MGM venture is the first casino project for Cadillac Fairview, but Mr. Barwise said it is involved in several "large-scale city building projects," noting many of its properties, such as the Toronto Eaton Centre, are tourist destinations.
With a report from Adrian Morrow
Who: A Paradise, Nev.-based global hospitality company with a portfolio of destination resorts such as the Bellagio and MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and a stake in the MGM Macau resort and casino. Would operate in a 50/50 venture with Cadillac Fairview Corp.
What would they do: Develop a $3- to $4-billion resort with a 1,000-room hotel, convention space, restaurants, entertainment and shopping. May also include a permanent Cirque du Soleil facility and cusine crafted by renowned local chef Mark McEwan.
Where: Exhibition Place is the preferred site,
Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Who: A Paradise, Nevada-based casino-entertainment company which operates casinos on four continents including Caesars in Las Vegas, home to the acts of Canadian performers Celine Dion and Shania Twain; also owns the World Series of Poker. Would partner with Detroit's Rock Gaming, the company's joint venture partner in the Horseshoe casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
What would they do: Develop a more than $1-billion gaming entertainment complex that would serve as a "world-class tourism anchor" with proximity to public transit and the entertainment district under the Caesars brand. (Oxford Properties Group, the real-estate arm of pension fund OMERS, owners of the northern portion of the convention centre, unveiled plans in October, 2012, to demolish the Front Street facility as well as an adjoining hotel and two nearby office buildings. It plans to revamp the property with a mixed-use development that includes a new hotel and casino, as well as two new skyscrapers that would be among the tallest in Canada.)
Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre, but design could be adapted at other downtown Toronto locations.
Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Who: A Paradise, Nev.-based casino and resort operating company which owns properties including the Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas, as well as holdings in Pennsylvania, Macau and Singapore.
What would they do: Build a $2-billion integrated resort, featuring a casino, retail, entertainment and exhibition space including 2,000 hotel rooms and restaurants. Only 5 per cent of space would be dedicated to gaming. Would work with Oxford Properties Group.
Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre only. , ruled out the Port Lands and Exhibition Place as too removed from downtown.
OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES
– Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd.
which operates gambling sites in British Columbia and Alberta, say they have been approached "numerous times" by developers, even though they haven't thrown their hat into the ring.
– Wynn Resorts chair Steve Wynn. in October visited several potential casino sites, including the convention centre and the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
– Onex Corp. head Gerry Schwartz. , owner of the Tropicana, who also has four Alberta casinos, has indicated interest in the Toronto area, but not necessarily the downtown.
– Developer Larry Tanenbaum , chair of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., also signalled his interest in partnering with a major casino operator in a Toronto bid.
– Developer Jerry Sprackman, owner of The Docks, is shopping around his pop-up casino plans for the Port Lands, as well as drawings for a full resort on the site of his Polson Pier nightclub. He says his dream has attracted the interest of two unnamed casino companies.