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MVVA River Park South summer- view west towards Cherry Street. Handout / Waterfront Toronto

Revitalizing Toronto's Port Lands would take at least three decades and cost as much as $1.9-billion under a new plan aimed at kick-starting development on the massive waterfront site.

The proposal, part of a year-long study by Waterfront Toronto and city staff released on Wednesday, would reduce costs for developing the site by an estimated $130-million, primarily through changes to plans for flood protection and parkland at the mouth of the Don River. At the same time, it identifies additional costs including new bridges, roads, and sewers and bus and light rail lines that increase the total price tag for development and hinge on funding from the public and private sector.

Described as a "more realistic and affordable" option by Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell, the plan is broken into five phases that could be rolled out over the coming decades depending on market demand and financing. Once flood protection measures are in place, redevelopment could begin on one or both quays at the western end of the site, on the city's inner harbour. Work also could take place in the area east of the Don Roadway. The final phases would include naturalizing the mouth of the Don River and developing the land between Cherry Street and the Don Roadway. The plans and cost do not include work on the section of the Port Lands south of the shipping channel or east of Carlaw Avenue.

The study is part of a compromise reached last fall after Councillor Doug Ford and his brother, the mayor, grew frustrated with the pace and cost of redevelopment as laid out by Waterfront Toronto.

Extolling the virtues of the waterfront site just minutes from the city's core, Mr. Ford pushed to have the city take control of its development, but failed to gain the support of council.

But even under this accelerated scenario, Mr. Campbell cautioned it is likely five years before any construction could begin. "It is not going to happen immediately," he said after a press briefing on the new plans, which also were presented at a public meeting on Wednesday night.

Responding to public criticism from meetings this spring, Waterfront Toronto brought back the designer of the original plans for the river mouth, the New York landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.

"The planning of a city is not like the design of a building or a park in the sense that it evolves," Mr. Van Valkenburgh said on Wednesday, explaining changes required to his 2007 designs to accommodate the existing users and the Toronto Port Authority.

The park that once would have jutted into the harbour has been replaced with a "harbour plaza" beside the existing harbour wall. Two new sites for "catalyst uses" were added, one on the south side of the new river mouth and the other near the existing Keating Channel.

These sites would be ideal for "civic venues" such as museums, he said.

New renderings of the site include ships tied to the dock wall during winter and a vessel moored beside the Lafarge cement facility, the plant visible above the foliage of the trees that line the new river mouth.

Asked about the need to change his design to cut costs, Mr. Van Valkenburgh said it is a constant request in today's economic climate.

"It is just a time we are in," he said. "Everybody still wants magic, but everybody wants it to cost less."

The new plan also has several financing options, including land sales, area-specific and city-wide development charges, local improvement charges and new funding sources dedicated to transit, most of which require the approval of city council.

This latest report, along with recommendations from staff, will be presented to Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee next month and to council in October. After that, provincial environmental approvals are expected to take another nine to 18 months.

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