Keesmaat proposes converting 3 city golf courses into public spaces

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat is proposing to turn three municipal golf courses currently losing money into green spaces that would be accessible to the public for free.

John Tory: 'There's really nothing new in taking a look at the golf courses'

Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat speaks to reporters accompanied by her family . She says, if elected, she would take three municipal golf courses, currently losing money, and turn them into publicly accessible spaces. (CBC)

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat is proposing to turn three municipal golf courses currently losing money into green spaces that would be accessible to the public for free.

Keesmaat said Monday that the Don Valley Golf Course, Scarlett Woods Golf Course and Dentonia Park Golf Course are all located on major transit routes, all subsidized by taxpayers but all not heavily used.

She said the golf courses could be converted into parkland, arts and cultural hubs, sports fields, outdoor skating rinks or the sites of new community centres, among other things.

"Today, our golf courses operate at a loss, they're only accessible through a fee, and not only that, they're only used half of the year," Keesmaat said before hiking in Upper Rouge Trail Park with her family on Thanksgiving Monday.

"We have this incredible opportunity to use our city-owned resources to ensure that we are creating spaces for new arenas and cricket [pitches] and bike trails and skating rinks and cross-country skiing trails. We can do this on our golf courses that are currently on major transit corridors."

Jennifer Keesmaat walks with her family in Upper Rouge Trail Park on Thanksgiving Monday. (CBC)

She said the current use of the golf courses doesn't represent good use of public land and the parcels of land can be opened up to "benefit far more people." 

City could talk to local residents about possible uses

Keesmaat said she wants to work with communities to make the spaces accessible and available. The city could consult local residents on the best use for each parcel of public land, she said.

These municipal golf courses should be transformed because the city is growing and changing, she added.

"They are a massive amount of land and land is an incredible resource in this city that we shouldn't leave closed half of the year, which is what we are doing today," she said.

Keesmaat said parts of these golf courses are connected to ravines, or part of areas that have been naturalized, or Toronto and Region Conservation Authority lands, and it makes sense that they could be used as green spaces.

The Don Valley Golf Course, Scarlett Woods Golf Course and Dentonia Park Golf Course are all located on major transit routes, all subsidized by taxpayers but all not heavily used, Keesmaat said. (iStock)

Asked if the land would be sold to developers, she said: "The vast majority of this land should be part of the naturalized area and used for community and recreational purposes. They serve as parks and they are used better as parks and used all year round for the community."

Toronto's 2018 to 2026 capital plan has identified $9.7 million in improvements needed for municipal golf courses, amid declining usage. These improvements include upgrades to building roofs and windows, sanitary fixtures, pavement, mechanical and electrical systems and irrigation.

Keesmaat noted that other Canadian cities have converted or are pondering whether to convert city-owned golf courses into public spaces.

Vancouver is reviewing its entire 25-year plan for public parks, including its municipal golf courses. In 2014, the city of Thunder Bay sold one of its courses to a contractor for $650,000.

Tory says proposal not new

Mayoral candidate John Tory, speaking to reporters at Good Shepherd Ministries in Toronto where he was helping to serve Thanksgiving dinner to homeless people, said her proposal is not a novel idea. Good Shepherd Ministries is a charity in downtown Toronto.

"There's really nothing new in taking a look at the golf courses," Tory said.

Mayoral candidate John Tory helps hand out Thanksgiving dinner at Good Shepherd Ministries, a charity in downtown Toronto that provides services to homeless people. He says Keesmaat's idea of turning golf courses into public spaces is not new. (CBC)

Tory said city council commissioned a report in January to review municipal golf courses in light of industry trends and to come up with recommendations.

"I take note of the fact that the golf courses can be and are a contributor to our ravine strategy and to our tree canopy strategy," he said.

Tory wouldn't approve of condos on golf course land

Tory said he hopes that Keesmaat is not proposing that condo towers would be built on land from the golf courses. He said he would not condone such development on the green spaces.

"I don't think we need to take that green space ... and turn it into more condo towers," he said. 

With files from The Canadian Press