Google vision for Port Lands a no-go with Ontario government, source says

Google vision for Port Lands a no-go with Ontario government, source says

Google’s expansive vision to plan and build communities and transit across Toronto’s east waterfront — in exchange for a cut of property tax and development revenues — is a non-starter, the Ontario government says.

At Queen’s Park, a senior government official told the Star’s Robert Benzie that Google sister company Sidewalk Labs’s plans — revealed by the Star’s Marco Chown Oved on Thursday — is a non-starter.

“There is no way on God’s green earth that Premier Doug Ford would ever sign off on handing away nearly 500 acres of prime waterfront property to a foreign multinational company that has been unable to reassure citizens their privacy and data would be protected,” confided the high-ranking Progressive Conservative insider.

The Ford confidant spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity due to the province’s contractual obligations to negotiate in good faith with Sidewalk Labs.

A Sidewalk Labs presentation, prepared for Google last fall, show that Waterfront Toronto’s preferred development partner for the 12-acre Quayside district at Queens Quay and Parliament St. has bigger ambitions, for redevelopment on 350 acres in the Port Lands area — an area almost 30 times larger than Quayside — by financing underground infrastructure and a light rail line.

These future revenues, based on the anticipated increase in land value once homes and offices are built on the derelict Port Lands, are estimated to be $6 billion over the next 30 years. Even a small portion of this could amount to a large, recurring revenue stream diverted from the city into private hands.

Reaction to the secret plan was swift and negative from several councillors when the Star broke the news Thursday evening.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents downtown Ward 13 Toronto Centre, tweeted: “A tech giant never having built transit + city infrastructure anywhere, or even pitched a dime for the $1.25B for Port Lands flood protection, has the audacity to stake claim for future land value, property taxes + development charges on land they don’t own.”

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth encompasses the Port Lands, tweeted: “Suspicions confirmed. Sidewalk Labs really wants control of Toronto’s PortLands.”

Ward 4 Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks took aim at Sidewalk Labs for hiring Keerthana Rang, a former communications staffer in Mayor John Tory’s office, and then former city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who retired from politics last fall, as “director of community” to explain and sell the Quayside vision to Torontonians.

“A $700 billion corporation is paying a former communications staffer for the Mayor and a former City Councillor to tell us what we want,” Perks tweeted.

Waterfront Toronto, comprised of federal, provincial and city representatives, is spending at least $1.25 billion in public money to flood-proof the Port Lands and make it available for development.

The vast majority of the Port Lands — 78 per cent — is owned by the city, according to a staff report from March 2018. Only 11 per cent is privately held, while another 11 per cent is owned by the province.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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