Two hundred local dignitaries, politicians and civil servants attended the lavish celebration at a Toronto waterfront café in early October. Nibbling on jumbo shrimps and asparagus spears, they tapped their toes to the beat of a roving jazz band. The occasion was an award ceremony at Harbourfront, a controversial federally controlled project involving the redevelopment of 96 acres of decaying downtown property. Officials of The Waterfront Center, a private, Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to fostering shorefront renewal projects in North America, had come to town to cite Toronto Harbourfront Corp. for achievements in staging cultural and recreational programs. But federal Public Works Minister Stewart Mclnnes stole the spotlight. In an eagerly awaited announcement, he said that the plans for finishing development of the Harbourfront site would have to be redrawn to increase parkland and open space, and reduce the density of proposed structures.
But Mclnnes also announced approval of three new building projects in the heart of the development. Six months earlier Ottawa had imposed a freeze on all new Harbourfront construction and ordered an internal review of the operations of Harbourfront Corp., a Crown company. It did so in response to numerous citizens’ complaints that the city
was allowing the complex to become a wall of highrises blocking easy access to the waterfront and obliterating the view of Lake Ontario from downtown. Indeed, the future of Harbourfront was emerging as a major civic issue: since 1984 five highrise apartment buildings have risen on the waterfront, in an area that many Torontonians believed was to be developed as parkland.
In his Oct. 5 statement—conveying Ottawa’s approval of a scaled-down project—
Mclnnes said that the developers would have to redesign four proposed condominium buildings—including a ninestorey building and one 15-storey tower —or build them away from the waterfront. But at the same time, he noted that Ottawa would allow completion of three other stalled projects—among them a 12-storey co-op apartment complex. He also urged Harbourfront to continue its year-round educational and recreational programs—but added that corporation officials should seek other sources of support besides revenue from on-site development to fund activities costing $7 million yearly. Those an-
nouncements angered—and puzzledsome of those present. Declared Aiderman Dale Martin, a leading advocate of scaling down the project, which is in his ward: “I wanted to hear that no more buildings will be built. What we got tonight was nothing.”
For his part, Harbourfront chairman Consiglio Di Nino said that if agency officials are not able to renegotiate smaller versions of the four stalled condominium buildings before Ottawa’s year-end deadline, those developers might sue or withdraw from Harbourfront. According to Di Nino, that departure could deprive the agency of $30 million worth of « revenue from develop| ment fees and land leasW ing rights. Declared Di Nino: ‘Tf we are not suc| cessful, we could lose our shirts.”
Clearly, the federal statement means that Harbourfront will remain at the centre of the controversy that has dogged the project from its inception in 1972. Then, several Toronto members of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet announced in the heat of a federal election campaign that Ottawa
would assemble rundown industrial waterfront property in order to allow city planners to develop waterfront parkland. With almost $136 million in federal funding, Harbourfront Corp. was formed in 1978 and given the mandate to create parks, build subsidized housing and support cultural activities such as art exhibits.
Since then, the redevelopment of the mile-long waterfront stretch has produced a bustling area with a hotel, restaurants and bars—and fashionable condominiums and shopping areas in converted industrial buildings. Regularly hosting a wide array of events ranging from poetry readings and open-air concerts to a children’s activity centre, Harbourfront has become one of Toronto’s most popular attractions for residents and tourists alike—drawing 3.4 million visitors last year. But Martin and other critics say that with more than half of the redevelopment completed, there is little subsidized housing and only 17 acres of parkland in the entire project. Their protests intensified last year with the construction of three 19storey apartment towers. Those buildings quickly generated criticism for their size and ungainly appearance, and they became the centre of allegations that agency officials had concluded sweetheart deals with some developers.
But Mclnnes noted that the review of the Crown agency’s management practices—conducted by the Toronto-based chartered accounting firm Arthur Anderson & Co—found no signs of favoritism. Concluded the report: “There was no evidence of wrongdoing by directors, officers, employees, agents or advisors to Harbourfront in any project which we reviewed.” At the same time, that review noted that a federal requirement that Harbourfront be self-financing by 1987 had forced agency officials to pursue an aggressive building-leasing policy. Now, said Mclnnes, Harbourfront will have less development and more open spaces. Declared the minister: “We want to ensure that there is access for the people of Toronto to go to the waterfront.”
In order to do so, Ottawa is prepared to cede ownership of a seven-metre-wide strip of waterfront to the City of Toronto for a proposed walkway. But civic and agency officials may still clash over the design and use of the narrow promenade. Harbourfront representatives said that they would like the city to lease the strip back to the Crown agency— which could then rent space on the strip to nearby restaurants and boutiques. Clearly, with more than half the site developed, Harbourfront is showing no signs of losing its ability to generate controversy in Toronto.
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