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Island airport, Port Lands proposed as joint 2015 fair site

Double waterfront site for Expo bid would be exceptional, consultants say


Tuesday, April 5, 2005 Page A12

CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF; With a report from Karen Howlett

If Toronto wants to put on a splashy world’s fair in 2015, the city’s money-losing island airport would be an ideal location — in tandem with the derelict Port Lands — a city council committee heard yesterday.

Consultants hired to assess the merits of Toronto making the bid rate the island airport and the Port Lands as a superior one-two punch over either the Port Lands alone or sprawling Downsview Park in the city’s northwest.

Taken together, the two waterfront sites “would make an extraordinary fair and one of the most extraordinary fair sites one has seen,” consultant Steven Staples later told reporters.

His comments came after members of the economic development committee, some of them highly skeptical, agreed to seek city council approval to put together a bid.

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If Toronto puts its hat in the ring, it would mark the city’s third try after two earlier unsuccessful bids. This time around, the possible contenders to put on a six-month long exposition, on a scale of Montreal’s Expo 67, are Turin, Italy, (site of next year’s Winter Olympics), Moscow and Dubai.

Closing down the island airport — a source of ongoing friction between the city and the federal agency that runs operations there — is a highly charged political question.

But it’s one that needs to be settled quickly, Mr. Staples told the committee, for Toronto to put its best foot forward on a bid.

“We need to have quick decisions, particularly whether the island airport is available,” he told reporters after the presentation to the economic development and parks committee.

Toronto Mayor David Miller described the so-called hybrid option as “a very interesting proposal,” one he had not considered until now.

“What’s important about the world’s fair is to bring the world here to show them Toronto’s incredible strengths and that waterfront site, spanning the waterfront, would be a setting that would show off Toronto at its best,” he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Toronto Port Authority was non-committal about the idea.

“The port authority was made aware of the idea in advance and if the option were to be pursued it would be a matter for the federal government to decide, because they would have to decommission the airport,” Tom McMillan said. “We are looking forward to hearing more details of the plan.”

In late 2003 when he was newly installed as mayor, Mr. Miller won council approval to reverse the city’s support for construction of a 22-metre bridge to the airport from the foot of Bathurst Street.

Yesterday, Mr. Miller said he has already spoken to federal representatives about the fate of the island airport and plans to raise the issue with Prime Minister Paul Martin. Federal representatives, along with the Ontario government, the city and the private sector have been part of the preliminary discussions about a possible bid by Toronto for the 2015 world’s fair.

Economic development committee chairman Brian Ashton, a supporter of an Expo bid by the city, said “the Prime Minister will have to make a decision whether the island airport and its long-term future is more important than a World Expo.

“That’s an easy yes or no,” he added.

If Toronto proceeds with a waterfront-based world’s fair, one of the proposed legacies is a light-rail transit service, built under the water, to link the island airport and Port Lands locations with the downtown core.

At present, there is no price tag for the proposal, which imagines streetcars or electric buses encased in giant tubes under the water. Similar technology already is in use in Boston and Detroit, according to Robert McBride, president of BA Consulting and a member of the consultants group that made its presentation to the committee yesterday.

Rick Ducharme, chief general manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, said the notion of an underwater transit route remains “preliminary.”

Jim Bradley, Ontario Minister of Tourism and Recreation, said he is not in a position to make any further financial commitments on behalf of the province.

“We’re in a very preliminary stage at this time,” he said in an interview.

He said Ontario has a budget deficit to contend with and that the City of Toronto is also struggling with its finances. “Both are going to be looking very cautiously at any potential expenditures or investment in this regard,” he said.

Mr. Bentley said he has seen figures outlining the economic benefits of playing host to a world fair that could offset any deficit from mounting a bid.

“We have to analyze those projections carefully before proceeding because obviously people who are enthusiastic about an initiative of this kind are going to paint the brightest picture possible.”