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Union Station still on the to-do list

Miller says revamp a priority for key piece of real estate

January 02, 2007
Paul Moloney

Another year gone by, and still no plan to restore Toronto’s venerable but deteriorating Union Station.

After three years of failure to get the project under way under his watch, Mayor David Miller has identified Union Station as a priority as he commences a new four-year term.

“There may be opportunities for public sector partnerships,” Miller told the Star. “Certainly, we need to move forward with Union Station, and I’m looking forward to seeing what advice we get.”

A Union Station makeover has been on the city’s to-do list ever since it acquired the key transportation hub from the railways back in the summer of 2000.

Restoring Union Station is considered a key initiative for Toronto. The building is a historic landmark, a vital transportation hub and a crucial part of the city’s downtown. It is a destination point for the TTC, VIA Rail and GO Transit and will one day have a rail link to Pearson airport.

But the structure badly needs renovation.

Appeals to the private sector haven’t worked out.

Union Pearson Group, a consortium of high-profile companies, was to have invested at least $100 million to transform the place into a showpiece that would also attract people to retail and entertainment venues.

The consortium engaged in extensive talks with the city over a four-year period but announced in June that time had run out to complete the deal.

It may be the city approach of turning the whole project over to a single developer was too ambitious, said Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone.

“We tried to go with the big, comprehensive, whole-enchilada approach with the private sector,” Pantalone said. “Either it was too early or that simply doesn’t work. It may be that we can do things in smaller pieces.”

That’s one of four options advanced by city officials: if the private sector isn’t interested in tackling the whole thing, maybe parts of the station could be leased out, renovated and put to new uses.

The other options are:

  • Do nothing and simply maintain the status quo, which has left major components of the building vastly underused.

  • Try again to find a private sector partner willing to re-do the entire structure.

  • Go it alone, with the city carrying out needed renovations.

Pantalone hopes conditions are more conducive to getting something done now.

Union Station is considered a key piece of real estate, with the Air Canada Centre, SkyDome and the financial district on its doorstep.

That’s even more the case now with a new office tower for Telus going up just to the south and condominiums sprouting up seemingly on all sides.

Meanwhile, GO Transit is improving operations within the station and the TTC plans to build a second subway platform to cure overcrowding.

“Union Station is now more central in terms of the flow of people and activities,” Pantalone said.