Oxford Properties Group is preparing to unveil a proposal for a casino development on Front Street that could be transformational for the southern end of the city's core.
Sources indicated on Thursday night that the project would expand the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and, beyond a casino, would involve building a new hotel and residential units on the west side of the complex. The development would require the demolition of two existing buildings on the site, one occupied by Royal Bank of Canada, one source said.
Officials from Oxford, which is the real estate arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), could not immediately be reached for comment.
A source said the project would include three towers, office and residential buildings and a hotel. The office and residential components would go ahead, but at a slower pace, if the casino bid is unsuccessful.
Earlier this year, the Ontario government announced plans to expand the gambling industry that included a new casino in the Greater Toronto Area. The convention centre is one of several sites, along with Exhibition Place and the Port Lands, that have been mentioned as potential contenders for the project.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. has started a search for interested bidders for a Toronto casino, and an official request for proposals is expected next year. Before that happens, city council must decide whether it wants a casino and where it should be. In the meantime, various pension funds, private equity firms and developers are working on ideas.
Mayor Rob Ford has said he would support a casino if it is a good deal for taxpayers and in the best interest of Toronto.
However, some councillors have been vocal about their opposition to putting a casino downtown, and the mayor's weak hold over council means the decision likely won't be his to make. The province has said it will not force a casino on the city.
Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan, who represents the area and is opposed to a casino, said the addition of a gambling facility in the downtown core would discourage other developments. "It will be like a bomb going off in the downtown core," he said.
Oxford bought the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last year from Canada Lands Company. The site runs from Simcoe Street to John Street, and sits next to other properties that Oxford owns including 315 Front St. – in which Royal Bank of Canada is the lead tenant – and 325 Front St.
A number of large U.S. casino operators have expressed interest in a Toronto site and sources say that Las Vegas Sands Corp., one of at least three Nevada-based gambling empires that have come forward since the province announced the plan, is interested in the Front street location.
The OLG has said it expects a major resort casino on Toronto's waterfront would create up to 6,000 construction jobs, although opponents dispute those figures. Some unions that would represent those workers went public this week with qualified endorsements of the project.