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Are The Port Lands About to Be Privatized?

The mayor's executive committee will consider a proposal to wrest the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto, apparently to accelerate development.

The view from the Port Lands. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew_snow/5188537209/"}Andrew Snow{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

In April, reporters learned that there was a general consensus among Mayor Ford’s close allies that the City, in partnership with private companies, could do a better job of redeveloping Toronto’s shoreline than Waterfront Toronto, the arms-length agency created by all three levels of government in 2001 to do exactly that. Now we have some evidence that the mayor’s team meant business.

At its September 6 meeting, the mayor’s executive committee will be considering a new approach to development in the Port Lands, which is the City-owned stretch of land south of Lakeshore Boulevard, between Ashbridges Bay and the inner harbour. The plan would give the City—and, by extension city council and the mayor—more direct control over development in the Port Lands, and would also open the door to a much more aggressive development timetable, funded by private dollars.

Waterfront Toronto has spent a decade laying plans for the area, including a yet-to-be-realized $634 million project to naturalize and flood-protect the mouth of the Don River, to make the surrounding land viable for development. In 2004, they launched an environmental assessment of the Lower Don Lands, followed in 2007 by an international design competition whose winner was approved by council. The plan as currently conceived would result in the area being being built into a mixed-residential neighbourhood with parks, and would unfold over the course of 25 years.

The proposal that will be going before the executive committee on September 6 calls for a radical realignment of all these plans. It proposes altering the City’s standing agreement with Waterfront Toronto so that the Toronto Port Lands Company—a City-owned corporation that handles real estate and leasing on the waterfront but currently does not act as a development lead—would have control of development in the Port Lands.

The plan also calls for TPLC’s existing board to be replaced with a “strategically composed board” (yes, that is the actual terminology used by City staff) of nine directors, including five citizen members and two city councillors. Currently, TPLC’s board only has four members, all of whom are civil servants.

By changing the composition of TPLC’s board in this way, city council could bend the corporation’s decision-making processes toward almost any goal. What the goal may be, in this case, is not entirely clear, but the staff report (a type of document that city council uses to inform its decisions) that outlines the plan offers some hints.

The main reason for turfing Waterfront Toronto from the project, as described in the report, is the fact that the $634 million naturalization and flood protection project (and other remediation needed for the area) isn’t funded within Waterfront Toronto’s existing long-term budget and therefore, according to City staff, “it appears that Waterfront Toronto is not in a position to coordinate a comprehensive revitalization program for the Port Lands that would allow for significant development within the next ten years, at a minimum.” The terms of the City’s agreement with Waterfront Toronto allow them to renegotiate in cases where there is “insufficient commitment, financial or otherwise.”

Under the proposal, money for flood protection would be sought from the private sector.

Waterfront Toronto already partners with private developers, and so it would seem that this proposed realignment of the existing designs is calculated primarily to speed development up.

This would mean, at minimum, big changes to a carefully laid plan that was many years in the making. And the impetus is coming not from Waterfront Toronto, but from somewhere in City Hall.

Speedier development, coincidentally or not, is exactly the result Doug Ford told reporters he wanted, earlier this summer.

Waterfront Toronto’s media spokespeople were difficult to reach for comment, because when the City released the report, at about 4:45 on Friday, they had already left their desks for the weekend.

Think about that.

“All I can really say at this point is that Waterfront Toronto, in 2001, was given a mandate by three governments to revitalize the waterfront and the Port Lands, and to develop the Port Lands around this vision of a renaturalized Don,” said Marisa Piattelli, VP of communications at Waterfront Toronto. She thinks about $19 million of public money has been spent, to date, on planning in the Port Lands.

“If there is a desire for change in vision or approach, then there’s a desire for change in vision or approach,” she added. “And we take our direction from those three levels.”

If executive committee approves the plan on September 6, it will still need final approval by city council.

Read the full staff report here.

Comments

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    money for flood protection would be sought from the private sector.

    Pardon my French, but that’s horseshit. The only way to monetize flood protection is to run a protection racket. In that context it’s obvious whom the racketeers and the victims are, whether any actual protection would result, and whether it would be cost-efficient.

    This change is about manufacturing gravy. “Faster” development means less time for the mechanisms of public oversight to function; it will mean greater short-term private profit for an inferior “product” that people will live and work in for decades. The centralization of power increases the likelihood that whomever can funnel that gravy back to the mayor and his cronies in creative and quasi-legal ways will get a larger share of the pie.

  • John Duncan

    The main bright spot here has to be that the other levels of government do appear to understand the value of WaterfrontTO, and in the case of the feds, Ford has just told them he wants $300 million of their money redirected to his folly on Sheppard.

    Also, wow… apparently the private sector is going to be doing a lot of building over the next few years… $4 billion worth of development charges/tax redirects along Sheppard, plus totally building out the Port Lands.

  • Julie Beddoes

    Waterfront Toronto, after years of consulting the community, offers us a natural river mouth; one councillor from Etobicoke would rather have a shopping mall. What do Torontonians want?
    If Doug Ford seriously thinks the private sector will pay for flood protection, sewers, roads,bridges, transit, etc., what incentives will he give? Naming rights to the river?

    JAB

  • Nick

    I have been very impressed with the results of Waterfront Toronto to date – was just at Sugar Beach and Sherbourn Commons last week. These will nicely frame the Corus and George Brown buildings. Looking forward to the West Don Lands redevelopment too. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to toss out a mechanism that seems to be working: we’ll probably end up with a repeat of the early Harbourfront condos – that would be a real boondoggle.

  • Anonymous

    So this is what all the phony library-cutting and anti-commie histrionics was supposed to distract from…

  • Dennis Findlay

    It is time for rational minds to stand up and say NO!

    How much more money, time and planning are we going to squander when we already have had a thorough and complete process.
    Why did it take so long? Good thoughtful planning takes time.

    Now is the time to start doing the flood protection that the existing EA will produce and then will be the time to start the development because NO ONE in their right mind will invest in land that is on a flood plane!
    And if the private sector pays for the flood protection and the infrastructure, they will be rightfully asking for the land for FREE.
    WOW, that would be a really good deal! Gee, we would have lots of shopping and the worlds largest Ferris Wheel. (Think winter.) AND we would need to build a super highway to get all the vehicles in and out of there! Shucks, a traffic jam on the waterfront! This is looking better and better all the time.

  • http://piorkowski.ca qviri

    Oh. I guess I should mentally prepare for a second Spadina and Bremner intersection.

  • Just a theory, but…

    …Jeffrey Steiner is the former CEO of the Toronto Port Lands Company (formerly TEDCO). Steiner has since been working with the Morguard Corporation, which finances P3 infrastructure projects.

    No surprise then that the report to Exec Committee heralds the work of the former TEDCO, and suggests looking at P3 infrastructure options for the flood protection.

    I think Steiner is pulling the Ford’s strings on this one in order to deliver the portlands for his P3 and REIT/big box clients.

    Keep an eye on Steiner’s and Morguard’s involvement.

    • Nick

      It would be good to know with whom Rob and Doug Ford are meeting in their capacity as representatives of City Hall, but they’ve conveniently made it very difficult to find out, as their agendas just list “meetings”. It’s back to back room politics. MFP Scandal 2.0 is on its way fer sure!

    • Daniel Lima

      What do you have against P3′s? What has gov’t done to prove to you that they are capable of managing ANY major undertaking single-handedly? According to old gov’t schedules, the Port Lands vision (all 325,000,000 of them we’ve seen over the last 30 years) should have been in place and completed ages ago. Really hate to be using the term, but this is thick, dense, oily gravy in every sense.

      • Anonymous

        “What has gov’t done to prove to you that they are capable of managing ANY major undertaking single-handedly?”

        Agreed. Privatize road maintenance (inc. plowing), with road tolls to pay for. But let’s not stop there. Police, firefighting, military, heck, even parliament would be better run as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Pay early and pay often, cause profits don’t come cheap. Greed trumps life.

      • Anonymous

        “What has gov’t done to prove to you that they are capable of managing ANY major undertaking single-handedly?”

        Agreed. Privatize road maintenance (inc. plowing), with road tolls to pay for. But let’s not stop there. Police, firefighting, military, heck, even parliament would be better run as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Pay early and pay often, cause profits don’t come cheap. Greed trumps life.

      • Anonymous

        “What has gov’t done to prove to you that they are capable of managing ANY major undertaking single-handedly?”

        Agreed. Privatize road maintenance (inc. plowing), with road tolls to pay for. But let’s not stop there. Police, firefighting, military, heck, even parliament would be better run as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Pay early and pay often, cause profits don’t come cheap. Greed trumps life.

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