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City sees harbour tunnel for 2015 Expo

Committee urges $1M for work on bid

Seen as way to rejuvenate waterfront


It’s 10 years from today and Toronto’s newest mass-transit link is carrying up to 10,000 tourists an hour back and forth between waterfront sites of Expo 2015.


The under-harbour transitway is the most eye-catching part of a vision for Toronto to host the 2015 world’s fair, presented to the city’s economic development committee yesterday. Toronto should earmark $1 million for further planning work right now, the committee said.

The consultant’s report on the city’s bid offers three possible sites. It favours a venue that straddles the central harbour, split between the old island airport — to be reconnected to the city — and the port lands on the other side of the harbour. The two halves would be joined by a transit link running underwater, hugging the seawall across the harbour, with a third leg linking it all to Union Station.

Two other sites are examined in the report: at Downsview Park in North York, which is described as “a landlocked suburban site with little inherent attractiveness,” and a larger single venue in the eastern port lands.

Themes proposed by the committee included diversity and multiculturalism, the environment and innovation.

The province would be asked to chip in $1.1 million for initial work on the project, seen as a catalyst to spur waterfront redevelopment. City council will decide whether to invest its share of the money at its next meeting on April 12.

The initial $2.1 million would go largely toward consultants involved in such fields as environmental assessment, site planning, urban design and landscaping. A full bid would cost an additional $4.4 million if council decides early next year to go for it.

The final cost, to be shared among three levels of government, is estimated at $3 billion — not including infrastructure projects like the underwater transit proposal. The city estimates Expo 2015 would bring 72 million visits — 400,000 a day for six months. The fair would post a deficit of $645 million to $939 million, to be picked up by taxpayers, the report says.

Economic spinoffs, in the form of increased tax revenues and job creation, would more than cover that gap, it says.

The option with the smallest expected deficit — $645 million — would see the fair located at two waterfront venues: on the port lands off Cherry St. and at the site of the island airport.

“We’re assuming that it (the airport) is not there,” said project manager Steven Staples, an outside consultant. “That is a political decision that the feds are going to have to make.”

The Toronto Port Authority, which runs the airport, fought hard to expand activity there by building a bridge but was unsuccessful. It’s staying neutral on the Expo proposal.

“The airport belongs to the federal government,” said port authority spokesman Tom McMillan. “It would be a matter for the federal government to decide whether they want to decommission the airport.”

A spokesperson for federal Transport Minister Jean Lapierre could not be reached for comment yesterday.

If the airport site becomes available, the consultants would look at filling in the 120-metre-wide Western Gap to create a land bridge linking the site to the mainland at the foot of Bathurst St. A new Western Gap would be dug south of the airport site.

In addition, the airport lands could be connected directly to the port lands by an underwater transit tube running along the lake bottom just offshore, with a connection to Union Station.

“The most critical issue in my view is the transportation connection, what’s the cost going to be and is it technologically feasible,” said Councillor Brian Ashton (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), who chairs the economic development committee, which discussed the proposal yesterday.

Those answers aren’t expected until more detailed studies are done.

“The major challenges are gaining support at all levels of government for use of the airport site, environmental approvals for a new Western Gap, the east-west transit tunnel and lake fill in the existing Western Gap,” a staff report said.

Staples told reporters the waterfront venue provides an opportunity to create landmark structures, like the opera house in Sydney, Australia’s harbour.

He made it clear an important element is the airport, a money-losing facility that Mayor David Miller and a majority of city councillors don’t want to see expanded.

Council’s stand “makes the island airport not a money-making proposition. If that’s the case, you open the question as to why you would want to keep it as a money-losing proposition,” Staples said. “So for these reasons, we think it’s a good option to take a look at.”

Miller was fully supportive of the bid.

“Toronto has so many strengths, particularly the fact we have people from literally around the world here,” he said yesterday. “It’s time to bring the world to Toronto.”

Miller said he supports a waterfront fair but wouldn’t say if he’ll push to have the airport closed to make way for it. “Ultimately, that will be the Prime Minister’s decision,” he said. “We have to showcase Toronto and to do that, the waterfront is the obvious location.”

Competition for the fair is expected to include Moscow, Buenos Aires, Tehran, Dubai and Turin. The 90-country Bureau Internationale des Expositions is to announce the winner in late 2007. Toronto lost the 2000 world’s fair by one vote to Hanover, Germany.