The Las Vegas Sands Corp. is only interested in building a Toronto casino if it is at the Metro Convention Centre, ruling out the Port Lands and Exhibition Place as too removed from the downtown, a senior executive says.
Michael Leven, president of the Nevada-based gaming company best known for its billionaire leader Sheldon Adelson, said Toronto could greatly improve its 62nd-place ranking on the world convention circut by expanding the Front Street facility with the help of a casino.
"We think the convention centre needs a boost," he told the lunch crowd at The Economic Club of Canada. "It needs the activity that will drive more business, more people and more excitement into the downtown community."
Mr. Leven said the complex – which will include 2,000 new parking spots – will not add to the city's already congested core. Many users, he said, will come by transit as they do to attend sports events in the same area. As well, he said most activity will take place on the weekend and evenings, when there is less demand on the city's existing infrastructure.
If improvements to roads or transit are required, he said Sands would be open to helping to fund them. "We can do this without major infrastructure investment from the province," he said.
Last fall, Oxford Properties Group, owner of the northern portion of the convention centre, released plans to demolish the Front Street facility as well as an adjoining hotel and two nearby office buildings. It would replace it 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.
Oxford has not singled out a casino operator for the site and Caesars Entertainment Corp. also has said it favours the convention centre location.
Mr. Leven's pitch, made to a Bay Street audience, comes as the city wrestles with whether it wants a casino, and if so, where it should be located.
Last week, the head of MGM came to Toronto to make a pitch for a casino on the grounds of Exhibition Place, a city-owned site.
Mayor Rob Ford has said he favours a casino in the downtown, but prefers the Port Lands or Exhibition Place because of the extra revenue the city would collect as landlord.
The mayor's executive committee is expected to get a report on casinos in March, with city council scheduled to vote on the question in April.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. wants to add a casino in the GTA, but the province has said it will not force a facility on a community that does not want one.
CouncillorAdam Vaughan, a strong opponent of a casino who represents the ward where theconvention centre is located, called the idea that an extra 2,000 parking spotswould be enough "totally unrealistic."
"There isnot a casino in North America that functions that way. To pretend thatyou can do that in the downtown core would be to cannibalize all the parkingfor the small businesses in the area," he said.