The future Spadina Subway line expansion into Vaughan was a gift from taxpayers across the country, paid for by federal, provincial and municipal funding. This incredibly expensive infrastructure project provides Vaughan with the key stimulus for its aspirations of creating a dense, urban mixed use core with vibrant streets and less car dependent neighbourhoods. Centred between two future subway stops, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) will be the city’s future downtown.
Coupled with the future Highway 7 Bus Rapid Transit Line, these two public transit projects are the envy of other suburban municipalities. Unfortunately, a Vaughan staff report touts the benefits of placing a casino within the borders of the VMC, on provincially owned lands adjacent to the future Highway 407 subway station. Leveraging public transit projects to lure a casino complex is a short sighted decision and will undermine the efforts already underway to create the city’s new downtown.
As a future Urban Growth Centre, the VMC has a provincially mandated responsibility to house higher densities and a diversity of uses. Approving a casino in the VMC would not only be an irresponsible use of the new subway infrastructure, but also contravene the City’s own Official Plan for the area.
The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Secondary Plan prescribes the vision for the future downtown. The secondary plan advocates that “buildings in all areas of the VMC, and all types, have a responsibility to help define the public realm, bring vitality to streets and parks, and contribute positively to the image of Vaughan’s downtown.” The VMC secondary plan does not discuss the creation of large windowless boxes surrounded by a sea of parking. It was decided this was the past vision of the city.
A Vaughan staff report sells the benefits of placing a casino within the VMC. The report states that a casino “has potential to be a catalyst for development of the city’s new downtown.” There is no proof in the report that a casino will have this effect. In reality, a casino is a threat to future residential and commercial development.
In Toronto, developers of Liberty Village understood that a casino would undermine the future potential of this growing community before it had time to mature and fully build out. First Capital Reality, the lead developers of Liberty Village, knew that these types of facilities are not compatible with the creation of vibrant urban communities.
In a letter to Toronto city councillors and the city manager, First Capital Realty Inc. stated a casino “will destroy the unique character and lifestyle of King Liberty Village and Queen Street West and irreparably impair the community attributes and value of this neighbourhood.” When a casino resort complex was proposed by Oxford Properties Group in a retrofitted Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front Street West, developers RioCan, Allied Properties and Diamond Corp all came out strongly against the proposal, understanding the threat it posed to the success of their respective developments on nearby lands.
A casino complex will bring patrons to its facilities and make sure they spend their day and money within the facility, and only that facility, generating little to no economic spinoff for the future downtown core. Restaurants and retail shops will make up a significant portion of the gaming complex, drawing visitors away from other restaurants and shops throughout the VMC. A casino complex will suck the life out of the businesses surrounding it and destroy the vibrant, dense mixed-use neighbourhoods the city has been working toward building.
The City of Toronto overwhelmingly rejected a casino within its borders. This decision was the result of a number of factors. For some councillors, it was the inadequate hosting fee that was the deal breaker. For others, the issue came down to a moral imperative. For councillors in the downtown, it was obvious why a casino should be rejected: Why threaten an already vibrant urban city that continues to lure people, jobs and development and generates large amounts of tax revenue? In Vaughan, voting yes to a casino will severely hinder the city’s ability to create the same type of diverse economic generator and is a poor use of our precious and scarce subway infrastructure.
We have a deficit of transit infrastructure within the Toronto region and have only now begun the conversation as to how to fund its much needed expansion. Making use of the subway to host a casino is an insult to other municipalities struggling with traffic congestion due to a deficit of transit infrastructure.
Vaughan has an enormous responsibility to use this infrastructure to develop a more sustainable urban core. By accepting the instant gratification brought by a casino complex and its revenues, the city would be admitting it is not up to the difficult task of city building. Vaughan will undermine its own urban aspirations if it approves this visionless pursuit.