Thursday, April 26, 2007

905 gridlock seeds city tower - Toronto Star

905 gridlock seeds city tower
April 26, 2007
Donovan Vincent
city hall bureau

A large engineering firm's plan to purchase city property at Bloor and Islington Sts. to build an office tower shows that "gridlock" in the suburban regions is making Toronto more attractive to businesses, a city politician says.

This week, city council okayed an offer by SNC Lavalin to buy one-third of Toronto's 4-hectare property at Islington and Bloor, a deal that must be finalized within 60 days.

The city wants to use the proceeds toward a $58 million redevelopment of Islington and Kipling TTC stations. The project includes building a new bus terminal at Islington and a new "inter-regional'' terminal at Kipling for the TTC, GO and Mississauga Transit.

The city's portion of the redevelopment cost is $17 million. Toronto wants Mississauga Transit, GO, the province and perhaps Ottawa to kick in the rest. Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), who represents the area, says proceeds from the sale would cover about half of that $17 million.

SNC Lavalin plans to build an office tower on the property to house about 1,200 employees. Part of a consortium that owns the 407 toll road, SNC Lavalin leases space elsewhere in the GTA and wants to consolidate offices.

The firm was originally eyeing a spot in Mississauga, Milczyn said.

"There's the fact that employees located in the 905 have to drive. (Due to) the lost productivity of people driving constantly, companies are beginning to look at that cost, saying an extra few hundred thousand a year in property taxes is more than worth it,'' he said.

"It means employees can use the subways, get downtown faster for meetings or to the airport faster. Gridlock in the 905 is beginning to make the city of Toronto a lot more attractive to put offices,'' he argued.

Gillian MacCormack, a spokesperson for SNC Lavalin, declined to comment yesterday, saying negotiations are continuing. Zoning allows for a building of up to 22 storeys.

Now that the city has a likely "anchor tenant," Milczyn said, the property around the SNC Lavalin building probably will be used for an underground parking facility, a public square, and perhaps another tower that would let the city consolidate some of its own offices.
This article contradicts reports last year that gridlock was pushing businesses out of the city and into the suburbs, but it proves what the Toronto Board of Trade has been saying for years. Gridlock and car-based areas are unsustainable, and will eventually lead to economic collapse. In order to attract new commercial investment, suburbs need to aggressively deal with congestion and gridlock.

SNC-Lavalin has annual revenues of $2.8 billion US, and I'm sure that the City of Mississauga is kicking themselves for losing this headquarters. However, the subway is a better place, as there's already the infrastructure and services to accommodate the 1200 workers. This means that Mississauga Transit gets moved to better facilities at Kipling and a new GO terminal gets built (although which routes will use it remain a mystery to me), so overall, this is a good deal.

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At 5/04/2007 4:55 p.m. , Blogger Toronto Board of Trade said...

It seems a little optimistic to point to one development as evidence that congestion is worse in the susburbs, will push development back into the city, etc.

The record is pretty clear - The 905-area has built some ten times more office and industrial space than Toronto in recent years and, while Toronto has lost 100,000 jobs since 1989, our GTA neighbours have gained nearly 800,000.

One of the biggest reasons we're in danger of turning into a jobs donut (lovely and rich on the outside but empty in the middle) is traffic congestion.

When we surveyed major Toronto employers in the run-up to last year's municipal election, they named transit/transportation as the top business issue for the election campaign ... ahead of business taxes.

Glen Stone
Toronto Board of Trade

At 5/04/2007 5:44 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

You are right to say that it is a little optimistic to draw trends from a single piece of development - I know sometimes I take my artistic license a little too far.

But as you've said, the message is clear. Traffic congestion is costing us jobs - be it in the city now, or in the suburbs later, as I suspect will happen.

Thanks for your comment!


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