Toronto city council unanimously approves $2.4M for design work on Rail Deck Park

Toronto's City Council unanimously approved $2.4 million Wednesday for design work on Rail Deck Park.

Amendments added to bring skeptical suburban councillors onside

Trinity-Spadina councillor Joe Cressy disagrees with critics who call the park too downtown-centric, saying he thinks the park will be used by people from around the city. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Toronto's city council unanimously approved $2.4 million Wednesday for design work on Rail Deck Park.

However, some amendments were added to bring skeptical councillors from suburban wards onside, including improving suburban parks and funding other parks similar to Rail Deck Park.

There's been some division around the 8.5-hectare park proposed for the waterfront railway corridor, estimated to cost $1.05 billion to build, as some suburban councillors question how its creation would benefit their residents. 

Ward 7 York West Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti told his counterparts Wednesday morning that he would only support the project if more money were invested in maintaining suburban parks. 

"I'll make the city a deal," he told council. "If we in the suburbs can get our playgrounds cleaned up every day, get needles that are left behind from drug addicts cleaned up ... then I will support [a] park in the city of Toronto."

Trinity-Spadina councillor Joe Cressy, who has championed the park since it was first proposed over the summer, was confident that the project will be given the green light by council.

"It's supported by people from east to west, north to south, and people from all across the political spectrum," said Cressy, pointing out that Mayor John Tory's executive committee approved the $2.4 million demand unanimously.

Rail Deck park, as proposed by Mayor John Tory, would involve a deck built over the downtown rail corridor, with parkland created on top. (Jennifer Keesmaat/Twitter)

Critics say park too pricey, downtown-centric

Coun. Jon Burnside, who represents Ward 26, Don Valley West  said he was skeptical of the project before the vote.

Burnside speculated that there might be more opposition coming from downtown than people would expect.

"Even some downtown councillors don't have enough park space in their wards, so I'm not sure that they necessarily want to see all the money go to one park that's nowhere near them," he said before the meeting began.

A view of the tracks as they look now, facing east from Bathurst Street. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Rail Deck Park is for everyone, says Cressy 

Cressy says that the park is sorely needed.

"Downtown Toronto is the most park-deficient area in the entire city. And the population is expected to double in the next 25 years," he said.  

He also thinks the park will be used by people from around the city and by visitors to Toronto, comparing it to Millennium Park in Chicago.

Now that the $2.4 million for planning is successfully approved, the city will still have to buy the air rights to the space above the tracks, along with raising the money required to build it.

Documents stating that a company named Craft Acquisitions Corporation purchased all of the air rights and space above the tracks in December 2013 emerged recently, but Cressy said he's not worried about the documents..

"We have said very clearly that this will be parkland," he said. "Whoever are the owners, that's who we will negotiate the air rights with. Nothing has changed."

With files from Linda Ward, Laura Fraser and Chris Glover