Rob Ford supports $3B casino project, sort of

A massive casino, retail and condominium project on Front Street is being proposed by development firm Oxford Properties Group, provided Toronto gives its blessing to a new gambling resort within the city limits.
A rendering of the view from the south of Oxford's development proposal on Front Street. (Oxford Properties Group)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he is willing to entertain a privately-built casino resort like the massive complex proposed by a developer on Front Street on Friday, but would prefer it built on city-owned land.

Oxford Properties Group on Friday announced plans for the $3-billion project, which would potentially include a hotel, an urban park, and retail space in addition to a casino on land it owns on the south side of Front Street between Simcoe Street and Blue Jays Way.

Ford told reporters he would prefer to see a casino built on city-owned land and would want to see an annual benefit of around $100 million to the city from the project. He didn't clarify if that figure relates to tax revenue or other associated benefits like employment or money brought to the city.

"We can make more money when we own the property, obviously. But if someone can come up on private land with the same amount, then I'll entertain that as well," Ford said.

"If it benefits the taxpayers, if we can make money, and it creates good paying jobs then I’m in favour of it. But until then I want to see all the proposals that come forward."

The issue of whether to build a casino or not in Toronto has been a polarizing one. The province has identified the city of Toronto as a possible location for a large casino resort complex, but has said that is contingent on the city's approval.

City staff will publish a report in November that analyzes the pros and cons, although councillors of varying stripes have already come out for or against the idea.

'Well-conceived private sector solution'

"If the decision is made to have a casino in the City of Toronto, Oxford believes it can provide the best location and the ideal solution for all stakeholders," said Blake Hutcheson, president and CEO of Oxford Properties in a Friday release. He added this development proposal "is a well-conceived private sector solution" that would require no public infrastructure.

"Although the casino itself represents less than 10 per cent of the project's area, it is a necessary and essential catalyst for the entire development and is a use that will be complementary to Toronto's core in the way that we have designed and conceived it," said Michael Kitt, Oxford's executive vice president in Canada.

Oxford said it is looking forward to working with the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which currently occupies a large chunk of real estate on that stretch of Front Street, "to create a revitalized, state-of-the-art, convention facility."

"An expanded and modernized facility as part of Oxford Place will broaden the appeal of the MTCC and attract significant new convention business to the City of Toronto."

The complex would also include 4,000 underground parking stalls, said Oxford, which owns the MTCC and some of the surrounding property.

The announcement comes just days after theatre magnate David Mirvish and architect Frank Gehry announced plans to erect three 80-storey condominium towers and an art gallery on nearby King Street.