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Proposal for new TTC headquarters draws flak

Current location needs $30 million in repairs and upgrades
over the next five years, Giambrone argues

By Kelly Grant
City Hall Bureau Chief

The TTC is looking at moving its headquarters to a new 400,000-square-foot building in Hoggs Hollow, a proposal that was swiftly panned by the front-runner for mayor and by the local councillor.

At its regular-closed door meeting Thursday, the Toronto Transit Commission is expected to begin exploring a long-term lease with Build Toronto, the city’s fledgling development agency, to erect an eight-storey office tower on a commuter parking lot at York Mills station.

The chair of the cash-strapped transit agency said the deal wouldn’t proceed unless it saved money.

“For us it’s a simple commercial transaction,” TTC chair Adam Giambrone said. “Is it cheaper to go there or here?”

The TTC has been shopping for a new home for about 1,000 engineers, designers, lawyers, project managers and other office staff, currently scattered across five leased locations and two TTC-owned buildings, including its headquarters atop Davisville station.

That 54-year-old building needs $30-million in repairs and upgrades in the next five years - add to that the $8.6-million annual cost of leased offices and a new headquarters could financial make sense, Mr. Giambrone said.

The normally dry matter of TTC real-estate transactions morphed into an election issue Wednesday when George Smitherman called a news conference to slam the head-office idea - at the same hour his opponents were in a debate at a Scarborough school.

The former deputy premier fired off a letter to councillors on the TTC’s board urging them to reject a new headquarters. He also demanded they make a confidential report on the proposal public, despite the city’s long-standing practice of keeping real-estate negotiations private until they’re completed.

“If you’re a commissioner of the Toronto Transit Commission, how can you be voting in favour of the use of time and energy in these circumstances on a gleaming new headquarters, when the people who ride your system every day are expressing their concerns and their disaffection so strongly?” Mr. Smitherman asked.

Build Toronto, which submitted a planning application for the site at 4050 Yonge St. on Friday, said it intends to partner with the private sector to finance the project.

Derek Ballantyne, Build’s chief operating officer, said it was too early to say how such a deal would be structured, but that there is plenty of interest from other commercial players in a site that sits next to TTC and GO Transit stations.

Councillor Karen Stintz, whose ward includes the potential new headquarters, has reservations about the project.

Constructing a mid-rise tower on the site could be delicate because of a nearby ravine, the need for an official plan amendment and local opposition to the loss of the commuter parking lot on which it would be built, Ms. Stintz said. (The lot, however, has already been declared surplus and turned over to Build Toronto, meaning it will disappear no matter what’s erected on the site.)

“It’s extremely disheartening especially because I have supported Build Toronto and I want to be their advocate and when I’m not kept in the loop it’s difficult,” Ms. Stintz said. “There’s a question about whether or not a TTC headquarters makes sense at that location and even the commission hasn’t answered that question yet.”




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