City drafts top-10 list of public land deals
Includes selling land at Wentworth Lodge
The city is prioritizing a top-10 list of ambitious public land redevelopment projects meant to give taxpayers better bang for their buck.
Councillors will discuss a priority list for the new municipal land development task force Wednesday, including high-profile ideas like renegotiating the Jackson Square land lease, a new tower at City Hall and the renovation or expansion of the former Copps Coliseum (now FirstOntario Centre).
In some cases, studies and negotiations related to the projects are already well-advanced.
But other ideas are only now being explored — like selling off land connected to Wentworth Lodge in Dundas, using unspecified city property to create a “data centre” or buying a private Stoney Creek hockey facility to replace mothballed city arenas.
The list is meant to focus on “highvalue, challenging” proposals that need extra attention from city staff, said revenue generation director John Hertel.
He noted the list excludes the highprofile light rail transit project and
west harbour pier development because those projects already have dedicated staff teams attached.
Over time, the task force is supposed to review 2,000 city-owned properties — particularly vacant or under-utilized lands — for the potential to raise more cash, create affordable housing or grow the nonresidential tax base.
“This (list) is a starting point for us, but it’s certainly going to change,” Hertel said.
Not all of the listed projects are guaranteed to go forward, either.
For example, the project list includes renegotiation of the city’s land lease for Jackson Square with an eye to “achieve better public space” in and around the mall. But the city has been talking on and off with mall owners since 2014 about possible changes to the 99-year lease, including an outright sale of the city’s land rights under the building.
A long-awaited needs assessment on FirstOntario Centre, due in March, is supposed to weigh the prospects of an eventual renovation of the former Copps Coliseum into an NHL-level professional hockey arena. But some councillors, like Chad Collins, have expressed skepticism about the prospect of investing scarce budget dollars into “noncritical” infrastructure projects.
Collins is keener on other listed priorities, like a redevelopment of a city-owned York Boulevard property for affordable housing or the prospective sale of unneeded property attached to Wentworth Lodge.
“Affordable housing is supposed to be a priority for this council,” he said. “We know government funding is going to become available, so we need to be ready.”
The city is also struggling to overcome an annual $195-million infrastructure deficit that includes needed repairs for aging facilities like Saltfleet and Stoney Creek arenas.
Council passed a motion last fall to explore the prospect of buying the relatively new Gateway Ice Centre in Stoney Creek as a possible replacement. But Stoney Creek Coun. Doug Conley cautioned Tuesday the city is “nowhere near” a decision. “It will be some time before we even know if that’s something we want to do,” he said.