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Superagency to redevelop waterfront

Three governments kick in $300 million to start key projects


City hall, Queen’s Park and Ottawa have agreed to create a corporation run by an unelected board of directors that will have sweeping powers to redevelop Toronto’s waterfront.

The corporation will have authority to bind all three levels of government to development deals and make commitments to keep timetables and co-ordinate other government agencies involved in specific waterfront projects.

And the corporation’s authority will not be limited to the portlands. Sources say it will have development control over Toronto’s entire waterfront, which totals 46 kilometres.

City council will maintain at least some control over developments managed by the corporation through its authority to impose land use planning, zoning and public policy directives.

Taking a financial step that sets this waterfront plan apart from the 18 proposals that have failed in the past, the three governments agreed Monday to each ante up $100 million to kick-start the four key projects that will be managed by the corporation. They include:

  • Extension of Front St. westward, so it can be used as an arterial road to funnel traffic into the downtown core, once the Gardiner Expressway is dismantled. The project will be managed by Toronto’s transportation department.
  • Cleanup of toxic soil in the portlands, east of Yonge St. Canada Lands, a federal agency, will manage the project.
  • Expansion of the subway platform at Union Station. This would be done by the city-owned TTC.
  • Flood control and cleanup of the lower Don River, which will be done by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, a joint provincial-municipal body.

It will be several months before the superagency can start its job. Special enabling legislation must be passed by the province that allows the city to be a shareholder in the corporation, before it can be created.

Until then, an interim agency staffed by government officials will be set up to oversee four projects considered key to waterfront redevelopment and Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Anyone expecting an announcement soon of a waterfront czar to oversee the project will be disappointed. Until the board of directors is agreed to by all three governments, it’s unlikely a name will be made public.

The projects will be managed by government agencies such as the Toronto Transit Commission and Canada Lands, with a full-time co-ordinator hired by the interim agency to provide management.

Bureaucrats from all three governments have been hammering out the details for months, but the deal was only completed Monday, just one week before the International Olympic Committee visits Toronto to evaluate the bid.

Toronto’s Olympic bid is tied to the huge waterfront redevelopment plan outlined last year by a task force created by all three governments and headed by financier Robert Fung.

Last fall, Prime Minister Jean Chr�tien, Premier Mike Harris and Mayor Mel Lastman pledged $1.5 billion for the redevelopment scheme and agreed to set up an agency to oversee it.

The agency was supposed to have been in place in January, but it’s been delayed by bureaucratic and political squabbling.

After a meeting of bureaucrats last Friday, rifts were still apparent and it appeared an agreement on structuring the corporation would not be done in time for the arrival of the IOC’s 17-member evaluation panel.

Another meeting was arranged for Monday, but this time, sources say Lastman showed up and insisted that the final details be completed before the meeting was over.

“Lastman was his usual self,” a source explained, noting that the mayor “wanted the deal done before the Olympics people arrived, so the city could show (the IOC) that it was moving forward.

“He said there was political will at the highest levels to get this done and that shovels needed to be going into the ground soon if we want to create a schedule for development, and meet it.

“He was quite firm he wanted it done that day,” the source said, adding that after Lastman’s intervention, the details were agreed to in less than two hours.

To deal with concerns that too much power is being vested in a corporation run by an appointed board of directors, government officials have agreed to the creation of two separate oversight bodies.

An Assembly of Members comprised of elected people from all three levels of government is being proposed to provide the corporation with political oversight.

A Waterfront Co-ordinating Committee comprised of city councillors and citizens is also being proposed to allow the city to co-ordinate all municipal issues and consult with the public on redevelopment plans.