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In search of a beating heart

The City of Vaughan plans to come to life with a flashy new downtown

By Leslie Ferenc
Toronto Star York Region Bureau Chief

Vaughan could be described as a city without a heart, but that all could change if plans for a new downtown core come to fruition.

Frank Miele, the city’s development services commissioner, boasts that plans for the Vaughan Corporate Centre will transform 608 hectares of mostly vacant land into a vibrant people place.

At the heart of the proposal - unveiled earlier this month to Vaughan council, developers and the news media - is a bustling downtown core of some 50 hectares along Highway 7 from Jane St. to Highway 400, which Miele envisions as “the Champs lys�es of Canada.”

Billed as the urban gateway to Canada’s fastest-growing city, the development project would be the largest and most ambitious in Vaughan’s history if it goes ahead as planned.

“We’re looking at billions of dollars in development,” Miele said. “This will mean taxes for the city, jobs and a heartbeat for Vaughan.”

Created out of a union of Woodbridge, Maple, parts of Thornhill and Kleinburg, Vaughan is seen as lacking a focal point - with residents feeling closer to their local communities than the city as a whole.

About 180,000 people make Vaughan their home and the population is expected to top 300,000 in the next 20 years.

‘We’re looking at billions of dollars in development. This will mean taxes for the city, jobs and a heartbeat for Vaughan. We want people outside, not inside or underground.’

—Frank Miele, Vaughan development services commissioner

Situated in the geographic centre of the Greater Toronto Area, Vaughan is planning its new downtown near the intersection of three of the busiest roadways in the province: Highways 400, 407 and 7.

The proposal features a wide tree-lined avenue flanked by parks, shops, outdoor cafes, theatres, office buildings and apartment towers teeming with people who will live, work and play in the city’s core. A ring road will define the area.

It’s a far cry from most suburbs, where the centre of the universe is a climate-controlled mall that turns into a ghost town after closing time, according to Miele.

“We want people outside, not inside or underground,” he said of Vaughan’s plans for a more traditional downtown.

But it takes more than glitzy buildings and fancy shops to make a downtown successful and vibrant, Miele noted. The key is a well-planned transportation system to move people efficiently and quickly.

The city’s plans call for improvements and additions to the existing road network paid for by development levies, and building a “buses only” lane running alongside Highway 407.

A key link is the extension of Toronto’s Spadina subway line to York University and then another two kilometres into Vaughan’s downtown. Queen’s Park already has set aside land near Highways 400 and 407 and Jane St. for a commuter parking lot and transit hub, Miele noted.

“Commuters from Brampton, Newmarket, Markham and across York (Region) could park there, get on the subway and go to downtown Toronto,” he said.

“This would alleviate Toronto’s traffic problems, which should please (Mayor) Mel Lastman.”

The subway connection from York University is a multi-million-dollar proposition, the costs of which Miele said should be shared by the province to meet its long-term transportation goals; Toronto, which would benefit from reduced pollution and traffic on its roads; York Region and Vaughan.

The federal government should also be willing to provide infrastructure money for the downtown development, he said.

Vaughan’s new downtown doesn’t hinge on the subway, but Miele said it stands to reason that without it, building densities will be lower.

Interest in the over-all downtown development proposal has been keen. The city and area landowners worked together to come up with the Vaughan Corporate Centre blueprint, which lays out the concept.

Developers already are lining up. The Marriott hotel chain is poised to build a 130-unit complex and two major theatre companies recently have completed mega-entertainment centres in the vicinity.

There’s plenty of other activity to come. The city opened up some 16,200 hectares of prime commercial and industrial land for development in the surrounding area.

If Toronto taxes remain high, Miele is convinced many corporations will look north to Vaughan to relocate or expand.

For more information about the Vaughan Corporate Centre proposal, residents can visit the city’s Web site (

A public meeting to discuss the plan is to be held next month. The proposal will then go to council for approval.