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The Globe and Mail

Doug Ford sees stadium in waterfront's future

Doug Ford has a vision: a football stadium on the waterfront. He says the NFL stadium might be built on the site of the abandoned Hearn generating plant in the underdeveloped Portlands.

The stadium would be the anchor for a massive redevelopment of the Portlands that would "turn this dump site into a wow factor." It would include dramatically designed residential buildings and high-end retailers such as Macy's department store. A monorail elevated transit system would link it to downtown.

Mr. Ford, an Etobicoke councillor and right-hand man of Mayor Rob Ford, says he got excited about redeveloping the Portlands after visiting there shortly after his brother became mayor and taking in the view of the Toronto skyline.

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"I said, 'What would Mayor Daley do with this property?' He would make it a wow factor." Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago won credit for redeveloping the neglected Navy Pier as a tourist attraction and creating the wildly popular Millennium Park near the Lake Michigan shore. Mr. Ford knows Chicago from living there part-time while running the Ford family labels company. He also mentions Baltimore, which helped revitalize its downtown with stadiums for baseball and football.

Mr. Ford stresses that the Portlands stadium complex is still only an idea. "This is just Doug Ford's opinion," he said, and "this is not in concrete." If Toronto were to get a National Football League franchise, something he admits might be a "pipedream" in the end, a stadium could go to Woodbine, Downsview or Exhibition Place instead.

But he said that, despite his Etobicoke roots, he prefers a downtown stadium site, and the Portlands district on the eastern side of Toronto harbour has many advantages. He says the area of 400 acres has huge tracts for development and big patches of parkland, too.

"Make that a green area - bicycling, beaches - and then make massive retail outlets, but not just the regular retail. I'm talking the Nordstrom, the Macy's, the Guccis. Something different."

Building on the site of the massive Hearn plant on Unwin Avenue would save $120-million because the stadium could reuse its foundation, he says. "It goes right down to bedrock."

A local developer came up with the idea of building a monorail "that would go along the lakefront and also scoop down to the Portlands and circle around." Both the monorail and the stadium would pay for themselves "through the private sector," he says.

Mr. Ford sketched out his Portlands notion in an interview on Friday evening after a week of controversy about the waterfront. He stirred the controversy by calling the Waterfront Toronto agency a "boondoggle" and suggesting the private sector could do a better job of developing waterfront land.

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That was unfair to Waterfront Toronto, which is behind much of the recent progress on the Waterfront, including brilliant new parks and several big office and residential projects that are, in fact, being built by the private sector. Still, the idea of jump-starting development in the Portlands, with or without a stadium, has its attractions. The area has been neglected for decades, and the elaborate Waterfront Toronto plan involving a vastly expensive rerouting of the mouth of Don River could take decades more.

Mr. Ford wants things to happen faster - big things. He talks about making the waterfront a true destination, with attractions like the giant London Eye Ferris wheel and dramatic buildings like the curvy "Marilyn Monroe" condominium in Mississauga - not just "square glass condominiums."

He says that when he brings U.S. visitors to Toronto, they tell him, "Doug, you've got a beautiful, clean city but there's nothing to do here."

"Well," he tells them, "there's going to be something to do."

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