New $3-billion downtown Toronto development hinges on whether it gets a casino

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Less than two weeks after Toronto theatre mogul David Mirvish and famed Canadian architect Frank Gehry announced a gigantic development proposal for the city's downtown, the Big Smoke is being targeted for another massive project that includes a casino.

The National Post reported Oxford Properties Group is proposing a development worth more than $3-billion adjacent to the Rogers Centre on Front Street that would feature office, residential, hotel, expanded convention centre and commercial floorspace.

But the project, dubbed Oxford Place, will only go-ahead if authorities green-light the casino.

"Although the casino itself represents less than 10 per cent of the project's area, it is a necessary and essential catalyst for the entire development and is a use that will be complementary to Toronto's core in the way that we have designed and conceived it," Michael Kitt, Oxford's executive vice president in Canada, said in a news release, according to the Post.

[ Related: Proposed Toronto casino focus of town hall ]

The project would sprawl over 11 acres and could include a 5.5-acre public park above the existing rail corridor, the Post said. Oxford has hired Foster + Partners, the architects behind such projects as London's Canary Wharf Underground Station, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and Abu Dhabi's Masdar City Development, to produce the master plan.

The announced project comes on the heels of a major proposal by Mirvish to redevelop nearby King Street West.

Mirvish wants to demolish his Princess of Wales Theatre and other buildings in the heart of Toronto's theatre district to build three 80-storey-plus condominium towers — which would be the city's tallest buildings — with 2,600 units. The complex would also include an art gallery, office and retail space.

The 10-year development still needs to go through the approvals process and it's proven controversial because of the way it would transform the street. Gehry said that despite the model displayed at the Oct. 1 announcement, the design isn't finalized.

"If you look at my work I do about 50 models. So it'll evolve but it'll have this character," Gehry said, according to the web site Design Build Source.

Though born in Toronto and renowned for buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry's only project in his hometown has been the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Oxford Place is controversial for another reason; the casino. The Post noted the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. announced last March it wanted to build one in greater Toronto but approval would depend on the municipality.

Several would-be operators have stepped forward but Oxford's is the first concrete proposal.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford favours having a casino in the city but wants it built on city land, not private property like the proposed Oxford Place site, because it would net the city double revenue expected from $50 million in property taxes on this project.

Ford favours putting the gambling den at Exhibition Place or the Port Lands near the waterfront but said he's willing to entertain proposals on private land if revenues are comparable.

"If we can get $100-million a year, and create 10,000-20,000 good paying jobs it's going to be very hard to say no to," Ford said Friday, according to the Post.