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The MaRS building on College Street in TorontoFernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The south-east corner of College Street and University Avenue in Toronto has been sitting empty for years. Despite plans for an expansion of the MaRS Discovery District, Canada's leading innovation hub, construction ground to a halt during the financial crisis, leaving nothing but a concrete foundation and a few steel beams sticking up into the air.

Come fall, 2013, that will change. MaRS' Phase 2 expansion has been given the green light, again, and that means a 20-storey tower will soon stand on the lot. The expansion was formally re-announced on Tuesday, and it will double the complex's size to more than 1.5 million square feet.

This expansion has been in the works since 2006 when the Ontario government first announced its financial support for the project.

The new space is desperately needed because the current MaRS Centre has been at capacity since it opened six years ago. Before construction even resumes, the new tower has already signed two key tenants: the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Public Health Ontario.

The expansion is a big win for Toronto because MaRS has earned a lot of praise for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in Canada -- something the economy needs to keep growing. The country's business leaders recognized this a decade ago when they first dreamt up the Discovery District, which opened in 2005 with the support of Bay Street, individual donors and the Ontario government.

For readers outside Toronto, MaRS is located right behind the big Toronto hospitals on University Avenue and is situated almost equidistant to the University of Toronto, Queen's Park and Bay Street. Because of its location, MaRS is now the home of many different conferences and meetings by constituents of all three groups.

From its conception, MaRS has been viewed as a place for people in disparate fields ranging from clean tech to life sciences to advanced materials coming together under a shared roof to foster innovation.

To build the new expansion, Infrastructure Ontario has lent MaRS the money needed to build the tower, which will be paid back at a later date (which means it's not a grant, likely because the Ontario government has no money to hand out for free). That means that MaRS will own the building, rather than lease it.

Phase 2 is being built with the help of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, which specializes in life sciences properties.

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