Union Station Project Approved by Toronto Council

The Union Station Revitalization Project was approved yesterday (August 5) by Toronto Council with only one vote in opposition, the predictable gadfly Councillor Ford.  Media reports claim that a few others might have voted against as well, but they were caught napping in their offices watching the debate via closed circuit TV, and didn’t make it back in time to vote.

Media reports, thanks to the emphasis in the Mayor’s press conference, focus on the new retail space to be created at Union Station, and this was a target for critics who say we shouldn’t be turning the station into a mall.  They haven’t been paying attention.  (For more details about what we are getting, please see my previous article on this subject.)

Of the total project cost, $640-million, the City is on the hook for about $300-million, some of which has already been spent on necessary building repairs.  The City share will be partly covered through payments by the Head Lessee for the commercial space via three payment streams:  an up front one-time charge, an annual base rent, and percentage of sales from the retail space.  We won’t know the exact details until all of the agreements are in place later this year, and at that time we will also learn the identity of the successful bidder for the Head Lease.

Some opponents of City participation in this scheme argue that this should be a GO Transit project and the City has no business being in the railway station business, let alone creating a new shopping mall.  I disagree, strongly, with this position.

First, GO Transit (and its new parent, Metrolinx) has shown repeatedly that it cares only about its own operations as a commuter railway, not about local development.  GO would probably give us a tolerably decent railway station, but little more, and would plead poverty to any requests that it enhance the building.  We know exactly what GO’s idea of “good design” is every time we walk through their existing station, a bargain basement of fast food and the uninspiring underbelly of a former Post Office.

From the City’s point of view, this is both a major interchange with the TTC (still owned by the City) as well as a gateway to new developments south of the rail corridor.  Union Station is the link between the old and new “downtowns”, and is far more than just a train station.

Although I have discussed details of this project before, there are a few diagrams in the Council presentation that warrant comments. Continue reading