Toronto

GM Canada breaks ground for new 7-acre Leslieville mobility campus

General Motors Canada is pushing ahead with plans to transform a former industrial stretch in Leslieville, north of the Port Lands, into a seven-acre car dealership complex and "innovation" centre.

Company says it's more than just a car dealership but residents fear traffic jams

An artist's impression of General Motors Canada's proposed Urban Mobility Campus to be built along a former industrial stretch in Leslieville north of the Port Lands. (Submitted)

General Motors Canada is pushing ahead with plans to transform a former industrial stretch in Leslieville, north of the Port Lands, into a seven-acre car dealership complex and "innovation" centre. But  even though the automaker says it has done extensive community outreach, when a CBC Toronto team visited the area, some residents say it's the first they've heard of it.

A community notice recently went out announcing that GM will begin demolition on buildings at 721 Eastern Ave. by the end of the month, but Stephanie Campbell, who has lived the neighbourhood for seven years, said she was surprised to hear the company's plans for the site.

The north side of the proposed Urban Mobility Campus at 721 Eastern Ave. Once home to a metal works and a film studio, the site will be transformed over the next two years. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

"I think it's an unfortunate use of the space. I think it could be more community use, and this is just industrial from what I understand and just a place for other people in the city to come an look at cars or whatever."

But Mathew Palmer, director of special projects for GM Canada said the company consulted with the community during the planning stage.

Gwen Matsell, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years, has concerns about increased traffic, but hopes the people who work at the new GM facility will live in the area. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

"There's a lot to it — it is more than just a dealership," he said. "You're going to see a multi-use space that certainly includes vehicle sales and service, but it's also going to include things like research and development activity and new approaches to mobility."

The site will be home to GM's new Urban Mobility Research and Development centre, Maven Car Sharing offices, Cadillac Canada sales and marketing headquarters, GM Canada's central region offices, as well as dealership and service operations for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac.

The company announced the purchase of the land in April 2016 and began the city application process and and working with the community right away, Palmer said.

Concept drawing for GM’s new Urban Mobility Research and Development centre. One big design element for the community is the creation of new green spaces and bike lanes that will connect that part of Leslieville with the Martin Goodman Waterfront Trail. (supplied)

"We worked quite closely with the city of Toronto, with the local councillor, and we did public community meetings and have had an active website since 2016. So, we've had a lot of community input in the design and in the overall process," he said. 

"We got feedback both from the community as well as city of Toronto traffic planner. So, we really put a lot of thought into the best way of managing the site and getting the most out of it for our use, but also for the community."

Block plan for GM’s new Urban Mobility Research and Development centre. (Submitted)

The community has mobilized against such big developments in the past.

Eight years ago residents in Leslieville successfully opposed a developer's plan to build a Big Box store on the Toronto Film Studio lands at Eastern and Carlaw Avenues.

"We've heard what the community's response has been and we understood what other developments were proposed and approaches they took and we really looked at coming up with all the right blend," said Palmer.

One big design element for the community is the creation of new green spaces and bike lanes that will connect that part of Leslieville with the Martin Goodman Waterfront Trail. Also, a new right of way will be created that will connect Eastern Avenue with Lake Shore Boulevard East.

Luis Raposo, who has lived in the area for 27 years, likes the idea of having another north-south access road.

"To me it's a good idea. Sometimes like Pape, Carlaw and Logan, it's backed up. So if you have another one it's much better," he said.

While some are concerned about traffic congestion and road safety, others are happy that GM has committed to putting money into the a new school playground.

Gwen Matsell, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years, says she hopes the people who work at the facility will also live in the area.

"I don't think it's a negative impact because it will create more jobs in the area," she said. "I can't think of many negatives, maybe the traffic into the area, but creating those jobs is important for the area."

GM expects to create more than 200 jobs, but the entire complex will employ 10 times that number, said Palmer.

Demolition of buildings in southeast corner of the property starts Oct. 29 and phased demolition and construction will continue for the next two years.

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.

now