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The Globe and Mail

Waterfront Toronto open to fast-tracking Port Lands development

Toronto's Port Lands stretches from the inner harbour to Leslie Street south of Lake Shore Blvd.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

It may not lead to Ferris wheels or mega-malls, but the man overseeing development on the Port Lands says he is open to new ideas for fast-tracking development on the derelict stretch of eastern waterfront.

John Campbell, head of Waterfront Toronto, said the agency and the city are working together to generate fresh ideas for the entire 1,000-acre site that stretches from the inner harbour to Leslie Street south of Lakeshore Boulevard. That could include a departure from the existing plan for a mixed use residential neighbourhood, he said, and a move to more commercial development or even a "tourist destination."

A $634-million plan to naturalize the mouth of the Don River also is on the table, with Mr. Campbell saying less expensive options that "build value" and are part of an existing environmental assessment are under consideration.

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"The hand cuffs are off, " Mr. Campbell told reporters on Friday. "We will be looking at solutions that are more doable and we will be looking at this whole project, the overall Port Lands, with an eye to making it happen faster."

This new beginning comes with plenty of baggage and is the latest outcome of a compromise struck in September after Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, began promoting his vision for the site – captured in a glitzy presentation to the city's executive committee – which included a waterfront hotel, Ferris wheel, monorail and large shopping mall right where the new riverside park was planned.

Waterfront Toronto, the three-government agency charged with overseeing development, planned to start building on the Port Lands in a decade, but agreed to accelerate its plans. Mr. Ford had also wanted the city to take back control of planning for the site from Waterfront Toronto, but public outrage and opposition from council derailed that.

Mr. Campbell and the city's deputy manager, John Livey, would not put a new date on the fast-tracked Port Lands makeover, saying on Friday they will wait for the results of the review, which council is due to receive in June. Public consultations are part of that study starting with a meeting on Dec. 12 at Toronto's Central Reference Library.

"We have to wait and see what the study shows. We are also engaging the public," Mr. Campbell said when asked if a large shopping centre is still an option. "We are starting with a bit of a blank sheet."

Councillor Ford has already indicated he'd like to see private sector involvement and new office space as part of that plan.

"What we are looking for is a developer to come in and develop office space," Mr. Ford said earlier this week. "I am getting the word out there. Come knock on our door."

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A recent market study, he said, shows that selling city owned land in the Port Lands could put an extra $2-billion to $3-billion in Toronto's coffers.

"We need to develop the Port Lands,' he said. "We need the revenue. We need to collect the $2-billion to $3-billion. It would be great for the city and our bottom line."

Local Councillor Paul Fletcher worries that such talk will lead to more grand plans like the ones floated this summer. She also is concerned that money from selling property in the Port Lands would not be reinvested in the waterfront as planned, but be used to finance other projects like the mayor's promised Sheppard Avenue subway extension.

"We cannot strip the value out of the Port Lands and move it to other areas of the city," she said.

As for the type of development that might one day fill the massive site, Mr. Livey said, office space is an option. "I would very much like to see whether we could have a viable office presence, more than is currently there," he said.

Asked if a Ferris wheel has been ruled out, Mr. Campbell said he had no comment, but called a tourist destination "fair game."

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"An entertainment precinct down there, that is quite possible,' he said.

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