What happened to Woodbine Live?
If you ask the Mayor about his greatest achievement during his ten-year run as Councillor of Ward 2, inevitably he will point to one thing: Woodbine Live. Rob Ford will invariably cite Woodbine Live as an example of how he can attract private interests to major projects, having been quoted once as saying 'I know how to deal with CEOs of huge corporations - that's how I landed the largest development in Toronto's history.'
As someone who apparently cannot let go of notions of private investment being involved in matters of transit and other municipal affairs, you have to first examine that claim Ford has made about Woodbine Live, and put it under a microscope, and also examine just what the present status of Woodbine Live is (Here's a hint: it's not exactly been built just yet).
What is Woodbine Live?
Woodbine Live is a billion-dollar development/partnership between Woodbine Entertainment Group and The Cordish Company, which is presently based in Maryland. Apparently it would feature shops, restaurants, a skating rink, a theatre, hotel and other auxiliary attractions. Figures have suggested that 9000-10,000 jobs would be created by the project. You'd be looking at 80+ hectares of land being developed to go with the Woodbine racetrack and slots presently operating at the corner of Rexdale Boulevard and Highway 27.
The project was approved in July of 2007.
Though Rob Ford has been quite vocal in his support of the project, council records show that when it comes to crucial meetings involving tax deferrals and community-improvement plans, he wasn't necessarily present. Further, when you examine peripheral dialogue around the project from key individuals in both municipal government and those who were part of the negotiations, his presence may not as been profound as the Mayor wishes to claim.
Give him credit for showing up to community meetings and for speaking out in favour of the project, but this was a project that at the time the council strongly supported. Much to the chagrin of others involved in the project, Ford's claim of 'Woodbine Live, I did that,' does not necessarily hold up under scrutiny.
But what if we decide to indulge in the Mayor's fantasy? Facts sometimes seem to be an obstacle for our Mayor, so let's all pretend that we live in a world where we see things through his eyes. Let's assume, then, that the Mayor is indeed responsible for Woodbine Live. Let's strip away all of the contributions of Mayor Miller at the time, any of the other councillors, everyone in the offices of Woodbine and Cordish and put this squarely on his shoulders. Since the Mayor is asking for it (our belief that he is solely responsible for Woodbine Live, that is) let's give him the benefit of the doubt.
Flash forward to July of 2011, four years later.
There are no shovels in the ground. Cordish informs the local media that it hopes to begin construction in the fall, and then subsequently speaks to breaking ground in the early part of 2012. Various circumstances are cited for the delay, from fine-tuning details with the city to the U.S. economy being in recession. An employment centre, with a mandate from the city to provide jobs to residents of this area of high unemployment, has yet to open on site.
There is no skating rink, there is no hotel - four years later, there is absolutely nothing, and there is a general understanding that one of the reasons this development may not be proceeding quickly, is because there are potentially no retailers lining up for any of the retail space available.
Flash forward to March 26th, 2012.
I decided to bike down to Highway 27 and Rexdale and see what exactly is going on with my own eyes.
If there is a major construction project underway, you'd be hard pressed to find it. There were no large cranes in sight. There were no new girders signifying that anything is actually being constructed. There were no large trucks moving materials in and out of the complex. There were no signs signifying the presence of new retailers 'Coming Soon!' There was no gigantic piece of earth being filled with concrete and the whir and sound of constant activity. No construction signs, no restaurants, no hotels, no entertainment district, no residential units, no '1 million square feet of office space,' and most importantly, no new jobs.
This is what is happening right at the moment along the corner of Highway 27 and Rexdale. It is now almost five years later, and there is no sign of this project truly getting underway.
This is what Rob Ford cites as his major accomplishment in his former Ward for the 10 years he was Councillor.
His major accomplishment, his great achievement, one of the examples of how he can generate funds from the private sector for municipal projects, at the present time, five years after conception, does not exist in any tangible form.
How then can we trust this man to be able to guarantee any kind of private sector funding for public projects in any part of our city (be it funding a Sheppard subway line, or the development of the Port Lands) if five years of nothing is what we're left with so far, as his legacy in this Ward?
Five years. The project is delayed, with no tangible sign of future completion.
You know, come to think of it, I'm actually going to give Rob Ford credit for this. If he wants to take full credit for five years of nothing, I believe we should grant him such a thing. If this is the one thing he cites as his legacy in this Ward, what can the rest of the citizens of Toronto expect from him when it comes to these pie-in-the-sky notions of how he'd fund a subway or anything else? This is the man who claims 'I landed the largest development in Toronto history.'
Well, where is it?
Yes Mayor, I believe you. You are responsible for this. All of that nothingness at the corner of Rexdale and Highway 27 (and the subsequent nothingness of this entire Ward for your ten years) is all yours. This is your legacy.
This post has been contributed by Rahim Ladha who is a long-time resident of Ward 2.