Toronto

Rail Deck Park project gets green light from mayor's executive committee

Mayor John Tory's executive committee took a big step Thursday toward the creation of a vast downtown park to be built over the waterfront railway corridor, but already there are signs of a familiar downtown-suburban split on the issue.

Suggestion that Rail Deck Park could be built with money for suburban parks draws fire

The city's Rail Deck Park, which the mayor's executive committee voted to move forward with on Thursday, could cost more than $1-billion, and that doesn't take into account the "air rights" that railway companies claim they have over the space above the tracks, where the park will go. (Jennifer Keesmaat/Twitter)

Mayor John Tory's executive committee took a big step Thursday toward the creation of a vast downtown park to be built over the waterfront railway corridor, but already there are signs of a familiar downtown-suburban split on the issue. 

Tory, who has championed the creation of so-called Rail Deck Park since announcing the proposal this summer, touched on the downtown-versus-suburbs debate during a break in the committee meeting Thursday.

"It's all for one and one for all. This park that happens to be in the heart of the city will be a valuable, city-wide asset," he said.

The committee voted unanimously to ask city council to set aside $2.4 million for the initial planning and design of Rail Deck Park — an 8.5 hectare green space that would span the rail corridor between Bathurst Street and the Rogers Centre.

The committee also wants council to ask staff to look into funding sources and a final cost for the park, which could include paying for the air rights above the railway tracks. An initial estimate earlier this month put the total cost of the park at about $1.05 billion.

Suburbs vs. downtown

But one potential source of money for the park's construction is already causing disagreement:

A special city fund that contains cash for park projects outside the core could be tapped to build Rail Deck Park, which doesn't sit well with Dave Harvey, the executive director of a group called Toronto Parks People. He told the committee that using funds from that city-wide pot would eat into the cash available for the development of smaller, suburban parks.

"We wouldn't want any of those funds diverted into this," he said after the meeting. 

Coun. Frank Di Giorgio questioned whether Rail Deck Park should be pushed ahead of other city projects - such as transit improvements - that he says are just as worthy of city funding. (CBC)

Coun. Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12 York, South-Weston) also questioned the wisdom of building what he called "a luxury super-project" when there are so many others already in the queue.

But the downtown core has less park space per person than any other part of the city, staff have said, thanks to the explosive growth of downtown condo buildings and office towers there in the last 20 years.

"We are now getting to the point where if we don't make investments like this in parks in the downtown we will choke on our own growth," deputy city manager John Livey told the committee.

Coun. Joe Cressy says downtown condo dwellers are in desperate need of green space, like the planned Rail Deck Park (CBC News)

Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) said downtown core parks should be eligible for money earmarked for other park projects, because the condo construction boom in his ward has benefited the entire city through development charges.

"A rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "What's good for downtown is good for all of Toronto."

Staff are expected to provide a progress report to council on the park's development in 2017.

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