In a move that could signal a shift in how transit infrastructure is built in Toronto, Metrolinx plans to partner with a developer to revamp a GO Transit stop in Etobicoke at what the agency says will be no direct cost to the public.
According to a brief presentation on their website, Metrolinx says under the proposed deal a developer would “pay all construction costs” for a new station building, parking facility and public park at Mimico GO station. In exchange, the company would be granted development rights above the station to create a mixed-use development.
The deal has yet to be finalized and Metrolinx, the provincial Crown corporation in charge of transportation planning for the Toronto region, says negotiations with the developer are ongoing.
The presentation, which will be discussed at the transit agency’s board meeting on Oct. 22, doesn’t name the developer, nor specify the size of the proposed development.
Metrolinx declined to answer specific questions about the proposal Tuesday, but the agency is framing the deal to create “transit-oriented development” in Mimico as a positive one for transit users and nearby residents.
Mimico station is located near a rapidly growing part of south Etobicoke and serves about 3,700 passengers a day. Metrolinx has been planning for years to upgrade the stop by adding a new station building, making it fully accessible and creating a second entrance on the south side of the rail corridor.
Construction was set to begin in 2020. It’s unclear how the new proposal might affect that schedule.
Selling the development rights above stations is a policy experts have long pushed Toronto transit agencies to make greater use of. The argument goes that development above new stations provides built-in ridership for the stops, while offsetting the costs of the transit project.
Cherise Burda, executive director of the Ryerson City Building Institute, said Metrolinx’s plan for Mimico is a positive first step, but with many details still to be revealed she’s concerned the agency isn’t doing everything possible to maximize the potential benefits.
Burda said Metrolinx needs to ensure whatever is built at Mimico meets the region’s housing needs as well as provides a long-term stream of income to the agency.
She suggested Metrolinx require the developer to build a certain amount of affordable housing units, and direct a percentage of the proceeds from the lease or sale of some of the development to the transit agency.
She pointed to a development being built at the Frontenac Metro station in Montreal, for which that city’s transit agency is partnering with a developer to build a complex that will include 300 residential units, 60 of them subsidized for low-income residents.
According to Burda, the Toronto region has to shake off its tendency to “think small.”
“We need to think long-term … We need to think of leveraging our assets in perpetuity. Others are doing this.”
Metrolinx is embarking on a major expansion of GO Transit that includes building up to eight new stations in Toronto, including six new stops as part of Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan, by 2025. Aikins, the Metrolinx spokesperson, said she couldn’t say whether the agency will announce similar deals with developers for those new stops.
A spokesperson for CreateTO, the agency the city created earlier this year to manage its real estate portfolio, said it is “actively working with our partners across the city to identify opportunities for development around current and future transit stations.” The agency plans to report to council next year with a strategy to create more transit-oriented development.
Chris Moore, the president of the Mimico Residents Association, said Metrolinx’s plan for Mimico could be a positive one, but his priority is ensuring it doesn’t stall improvements to the station.
“We need to make sure it does not delay the planned changes to make the station accessible, as well as the new access to the station from the south side of the tracks,” he said.
“Those are two things that the Mimico community has been waiting for for years.”
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr