This report to Executive Committee provides an update on the implementation strategy for the “Rail Deck Park” project approved by Council in October 2016. The scope of the proposed project is an approximately 20-acre decking structure and park facility to be constructed in the Union Station Rail Corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way. (Inclusion of the Metrolinx property at the southwest corner of Front Street West and Spadina Avenue increases the area to 21 acres.)

This report provides summary information for the following areas:

  • Project rationale
  • Emerging scope, phasing and order of magnitude costing
  • Update on a growth-focused financial strategy
  • Update on real estate matters
  • Recommendations for stage two of the project

Background

Rail Deck Park is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a major new park that supports future development in Downtown Toronto while also providing city-wide benefits.

Over the past decade, there has been a fundamental shift in the amount of growth experienced across the city. Development intensity has been particularly acute in the core of the city where population grew by roughly three times the rate of the preceding ten years (40 per cent compared to 13 per cent).

The creation of new parks has not kept pace with this level of growth. Only two new parks provided in the Downtown area over the past 10 years have been greater than 3 hectares in size. The City is challenged in acquiring significant new parkland in a competitive real estate market. Typical land acquisition costs for unencumbered properties in the western area of Downtown Toronto range between $95 and $115 million per acre (land costs).

This has contributed to the significant parkland deficiency observed in the Downtown. The parkland provision for the combined population Downtown is just 4 m2 per resident/employee in the downtown compared to 18m2 city-wide.

Significant Downtown population growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, with current projections showing that 140,000 to 180,000 units could be added through 2041.

If this growth is to continue, there is a need for significant new infrastructure, including parkland, to ensure the quality of life, health, and sustainability of Downtown neighbourhoods. If this cannot be achieved, it may be necessary for the City to reconsider the pace and amount of future development in the Downtown.

The rail corridor area is the last remaining site suitable for a major park (over 3 hectares) to support growth in the Downtown and serve as a city-wide asset.

Rail Deck Park will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley. The proposed decking structure will support a fully functional park that, at full build-out, will comprise a total area of approximately 8.3 hectares or 20 acres, excluding the Metrolinx property at the corner of Front Street and Spadina Avenue. Inclusion of the Metrolinx-owned property increases the potential park area to approximately 8.5 hectares or 21 acres,

A park of this scale is a city-wide asset that offers unique programming and design opportunities not available in smaller parks, such as a mix of recreation, natural areas, and cultural uses. It will unite surrounding visitor attractions (Rogers Centre, Ripley’s Aquarium, Fort York) into a major destination district and enhance regional connectivity by integrating with the planned GO Regional Express Rail network.

Rail Deck Park also has the potential to strengthen Toronto’s global image and competitive position by creating an iconic new public space that exemplifies livability, cultural vibrancy, social inclusiveness, environmental resiliency, and civic pride.

Investment

The total preliminary project cost estimates for the Rail Deck Park (8.2 hectares; 20.1 acres) is $1.665 billion (2017 $’s) or approximately $83 million per acre (project costs). The project cost estimate includes over $600 million in contingencies and premiums, as well additional track-level work, reflecting the unique complexity of planning in the rail corridor.

Project cost estimates are subject to refinement, including areas of potential savings, as the work proceeds through subsequent phases. Project cost estimates do not include escalation or financing costs as detailed cash flows are not yet known. A priority phase one option has been identified, extending west from Spadina Avenue to the “Puenta de Luez” pedestrian bridge, comprising an area of 3.8 ha (9.4 acres) with a total project cost of $873 million.

Growth-focused Funding Strategy

Rail Deck Park is an investment to support future growth in Toronto. Therefore, the financial strategy will place an emphasis on growth-related funding tools and revenues.

Through this report, the Section 42 report and the preliminary report on the Parkland Strategy, changes are proposed to existing growth-related tools. Any changes to existing funding tools will be made in such a manner that benefits all parkland priorities across the city, including Rail Deck Park.

The financial strategy is considering the following:

  • contributions from Section 42 cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication funds, which are collected from new development with the sole purpose of acquiring and developing parkland in the city.
  • development charges
  • area-specific “value uplift capture” tools
  • local improvement charges and special area levies
  • Section 37 funds
  • Federal/Provincial contributions
  • Donations

A financial strategy will be brought forward for the project after refining project timelines and cost estimates, advancing changes to existing policies, engagement with potential funding partners, and further analysis.

Securing the property

The majority of new parks and open spaces created in Toronto involve the acquisition or conveyance of lands owned by third parties. These transactions can be highly complex.

A comprehensive legal review of current ownership confirms that there are four primary property owners in the Rail Deck Park project area: Metrolinx, the City of Toronto, Canadian National Railway Company and The Toronto Terminals Railway Company Limited.

Conceptual Design & Phasing

During the first phase of work, the City of Toronto contracted with Build Toronto to deliver a conceptual engineering and costing study for Rail Deck Park.

The study involved the development of an early-stage design concept for the decking structure and order-of-magnitude cost estimates for the project.

The concept is focused on preliminary considerations related to existing rail operations; geotechnical conditions, structural systems, utilities, grade relationships, noise and vibration; light and air quality, constructability and phasing options. Further geotechnical, environmental, hydrogeological, and archeological analysis will inform the final design solutions and construction methods.

Implementation and construction of Rail Deck Park can be phased based on projected revenues as well as various programming and design considerations.

Next Steps

If Council adopts the recommendations in this report it will be authorizing staff to undertake a stage two (“due diligence & concept development”) work plan in 2018 and 2019. The stage two work plan will address various technical, financial and real estate matters that are required prior to undertaking an Environmental Assessment process, putting forward a detailed financial strategy, and advancing a more detailed level of design. Public engagement would continue throughout this process.

Additional Material


Media contact: 
Bruce Hawkins, Strategic Communications, 416-392-3496, bhawkin@toronto.ca