Oxford Properties Group announced plans Friday for a $3-billion redevelopment of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front St. W. that would place a casino in the heart of downtown.
The 16-acre project would also include a hotel, retail, office and residential units and 5.5 acres of public parkland extending to the waterfront.
The ambitious redevelopment is contingent on the city’s approval of the casino, said Oxford chief executive officer Blake Hutcheson.
“The casino is a huge catalyst for kicking the whole project off,” he said. “Without the casino, you don’t have the revenue streams to substantially redevelop the entire site, especially the convention centre.”
The casino — 450,000 square feet including amenities — would comprise less than 10 per cent of the project and would be funded, built and operated by a casino operator selected by the province, he said.
Hutcheson said the new convention centre in Vancouver cost $900 million and required large amounts of public funds.
The Oxford proposal requires no city or provincial capital, he said.
“It’s a complete, elegant, private solution to what would otherwise be a complex problem,” he said. “We’re able to completely retrofit (the convention centre) to make it one of, in our view, the best in the continent.”
The project would add 500,000 square feet to the convention centre and connect the South building to the North.
Oxford, which is owned by pension giant OMERS, purchased roughly one and a half kilometers of Front St. W. between Simcoe St. and Blue Jays Way last year.
“Originally, when we bought it, did we contemplate it being a casino site? No,” Hutcheson said. “As the discussion grew about the best site for a casino, it became clear to us that this was a real opportunity.”
The Star first reported in July that Oxford was considering a casino as part of its convention centre expansion.
The Ontario government announced plans earlier this year to boost gambling revenues with several new casinos, including one in the Greater Toronto Area.
Both the province and the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corp. have touted the potential benefits of a landmark casino complex on Toronto’s waterfront, but said they will not build one without the city’s support.
The OLG has begun its search for bidders and an official request for proposals is expected next year. Exhibition Place has also been suggested as a potential site.
Many city councillors remain staunch opponents to a downtown casino. Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose ward contains the convention centre, said in July the proposal was “a stupid idea.”
“Putting a casino this close to the cultural, high-tech and financial centre of the city would be an absolutely stupid proposal, a stupid idea, and would damage the sectors that are the strongest parts of Toronto’s economy,” he said.
Paula Fletcher, whose ward extends to the Port Lands on the eastern waterfront, has also voiced her opposition to a casino.
Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have said they would support a casino in the right location and have even mused that it could help pay for transit expansion.
The project would add 4,000 parking stalls to support the development, but Hutcheson added there are 10,000 stalls nearby.
Two office buildings at 315 and 325 Front St. W., one occupied by the Royal Bank, will be demolished and construction will proceed at that site first, said Hutcheson. The Intercontinental Hotel will be the last building to be demolished.
The convention centre will remain open during the construction. Hutcheson said the project would create 10,000 on-site sustainable jobs in addition to construction jobs.