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Proposed innovation centre comes at a crucial time with Waterfront Toronto’s cash reserves running low.

Waterfront Toronto has taken the wraps off designs for a proposed "innovation centre," a nine-storey building being touted as the next stage of redevelopment of the eastern harbour.

Toronto-based Menkes Developments Ltd. would build and own the project. Under the proposed deal, it would buy the city-owned site near Sugar Beach for an undisclosed amount after it finds a lead tenant and begins construction, which is expected to happen at the end of next year.

Waterfront Toronto, which is responsible for developing former industrial lands on the harbour, selected Menkes to develop the site in a competition.

Plans for the project come at a crucial time for Waterfront Toronto, founded in 2003 with $500-million from each of the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

The agency is expected to run out of money in about three years, and wants permission to borrow to finance its operations and future development.

At the same time, it has faced questions about cost overruns in its redesign of Queens Quay and for spending at Sugar Beach.

While the latest project will be built and financed without public money, elected officials from all three levels of government came to Friday's announcement, including Mayor John Tory, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver and provincial Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure Brad Duguid.

Asked if his presence at the event signalled a re-commitment by the federal government to the agency, Mr. Oliver said only that Ottawa "will continue to work with our municipal and provincial partners."

Mr. Tory predicted the project will be a "job-creating jewel."

Peter Menkes, president of commercial and industrial developments at his family's firm, called the building "leading edge" because it would incorporate shared areas where tenants can collaborate, as well as traditional office space – parts of the building dubbed "the exchange" and "the hive" by architect Sweeny & Co.

"I think we owe it to ourselves to innovate and be leaders," Mr. Menkes said of the design, which he described as an extension of some of the lessons his firm learned while building Toronto's Telus office tower.

That project includes common areas for the firm's employees on the third and fourth floors. The new Waterfront Innovation Centre would have similar spaces, although they would be shared by all the building's tenants, rather than a single employer.

As well as the design, he said a selling point for the building will be its waterfront location. The project will also have access to the area's high-speed broadband fibre-optic network.