It's been a decade since First Capital Realty's CEO Dori Segal moved his head office from a Bay Street skyscraper to the nascent neighbourhood of Liberty Village in the city's west end. Now the shopping centre landlord is the latest real estate executive to speak out against plans for a Toronto casino, saying it will kill the community he has watched grow over the past 10 years and jeopardize further investment by his firm in the area.
Mr. Segal plans to deliver that message directly to Mayor Rob Ford and his executive committee next Monday. He is one of what is expected to be a long list of deputants who will speak over the course of the two-day meeting. The issue of a downtown casino provokes strong opinions on both sides. It cuts across the traditional left-right divide on council, with some councillors who traditionally support the mayor's agenda, such as Denzil Minnan-Wong and John Parker, opposing a new downtown facility. Unions also are lining up on both sides and citizens' groups and religious leaders have expressed their opposition to the province's plans to expand gambling.
City Manager Joe Pennachetti, in releasing his report on a city casino this week, said the level of public interest in the debate is some of the highest he has ever seen. "I get how divisive this issue is," he said. "I get that a lot of people may not even care about the dollars, they are totally against a casino. I get that."
Mr. Segal said he decided to voice his opposition – joining local business associations and other real estate companies such as RioCan – out of interest for his firm, but added that he has strong feelings about what a casino development might do to the city he and his wife chose to make their home 15 years ago because it was a good place to raise a family. He said he would voice the same concern if a casino were proposed in any of the neighbourhoods across the GTA where his firm owns property.
Sitting in a coffee shop in Liberty Village, Mr. Segal pointed to two mothers with strollers – evidence, he said, of how the condo development has transformed from a neighbourhood of singles, to couples, to young families.
"I'm trying to talk to everybody in the city who is willing to listen," explained Mr. Segal, who said fighting the casino has become a second job. In the days leading up to next week's meeting, he plans to continue to contact city politicians and local MPPs, and his firm has produced a video and posted it on YouTube to get its message out.
Mr. Segal thumbed a highlighted copying of the city manager's casino report, reading out staff findings that conclude the kind of massive casino complex contemplated by the province's gaming agency and casino operators for Toronto would be "difficult to integrate into the dense, urban fabric of downtown."
"We unequivocally don't believe a casino belongs in a neighbourhood and we don't think people want to live next to a casino," Mr. Segal said.
If a casino goes ahead at Exhibition Place, he said his firm, the largest landlord in the area with $200-million in holdings, will have to reconsider plans to invest another $250-million in retail and residential development.
City council needs to think hard about this decision, he said, adding, "If this is a mistake, it is going to take decades to correct it."