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TTC eyes towers at stations

Seeking a better way, the TTC considers highrise development at its stations, with `hundreds of millions’ riding in revenues

December 18, 2006
Paul Moloney
city hall bureau

A 35-storey office tower atop the Eglinton-Yonge subway station, a 20-storey tower over the Islington station and a second complex at Sheppard and Yonge? The TTC is looking up.

These and other possible developments at some Toronto Transit Commission sites will be the focus of a property development committee set up by the commission last Wednesday.

If the committee supports selling off or leasing TTC property, it would allow businesses and housing to spring up around stations, providing new riders , animating barren expanses around stations, reducing traffic gridlock and smog, and curbing urban sprawl.

The TTC payoff would be millions of dollars in transit coffers.

“Certainly, we want to see this happen,” said the TTC’s new 29-year-old chair, Councillor Adam Giambrone. “We want to see some of these sites developed. And if it can bring revenue to the TTC, that’s exciting.”

The commission is eager for more cash to improve a transit system that is struggling to cope with large gains in ridership. This year ridership is expected to hit 444 million, 8 million more than was budgeted. Last year the total was 424 million. It’s not clear just how much money that development would generate but Councillor Brian Ashton said, “It’s in the hundreds of millions, it’s got to be.”

Building around subway stations is a common occurrence around the world and while city councillors have long recognized the merits of it, they’re only now starting to move forward.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) credits the high-profile fight to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine for turning public opinion in favour of more compact development that generates less traffic.

“The revolution is happening,” said De Baeremaeker, one of nine TTC commissioners and a member of the fledgling development committee.

“Finally we’ve reached that consensus in society that you can’t spend $100 million to build a subway station and then have a barren parking lot beside it where the wind just blows the litter across it,” he said.

The first project likely to become reality is an office tower at Islington station that would be built by engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. That would create about 1,400 jobs on a site that has already been zoned for offices as part of the Etobicoke City Centre plan.

The company is expected to pay $8.1 million for the site, which will help fund a $58.4 million makeover of the Islington and Kipling stations to be completed by mid-2010.

“They (SNC-Lavalin) approached us last summer and we started negotiating with them,” said Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore).

“I’m expecting a report to come to executive committee in January with the parameters of the deal.”

Yonge-Eglinton could be next for development, with guidelines to be set soon.

“We’ve been going through a long tortuous planning process, but it’s almost completed,” said Councillor Michael Walker (Ward 22, St. Paul’s).

Further in the future is a development at the TTC’s vacant lot at the northwest corner of Yonge and Sheppard, once home to Dempsey’s hardware that was used to store construction equipment during construction of the Sheppard subway line.

Councillor John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) said it’s a prime office site at an intersection that’s currently doesn’t look like it’s the crossroads of two subway lines.

“The whole Yonge-Sheppard intersection is an eyesore and an embarrassment,” Filion said. “There’s parking lots, an old strip plaza and a vacant TTC site that hasn’t been kept up.”

A list of key TTC sites was identified back in 2002, after commissioners directed staff in 2000 to develop a marketing plan “as soon as possible.”

Progress has been slowed by the fact the effort hasn’t had a champion to steer it through the bureaucratic shoals and overcome “institutional paralysis,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc, the TTC’s vice-chair.

Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) expects that to change with newly acquired stronger powers for the mayor and his handpicked executive committee.

He said the executive committee can make sure TTC officials are working with city real estate people in a co-ordinated effort.

“Getting them to think together – we the city rather than me and my department – has been the challenge,” he said. “But that’s where we on the political side of things can say, `Hey, there’s a greater goal here and we have to get you folks thinking and talking and acting together.’”