The 215 acres of Island Airport land is publically owned. The majority is owned by the Toronto Port Authority and the rest by the City of Toronto. If the airport closes the Tripartite Agreement states that the land will revert to the city. This will be a tremendous benefit to the people of Toronto.
The airport is a stunning piece of property. To the south is the Toronto Island Park. On three sides is water: Lake Ontario, Toronto Harbour and the Western Gap. Across the Gap is the Bathurst Quay community and to the north and east is the skyline of Toronto with the CN Tower, high-rise condos and office buildings. It is the most impressive, undeveloped parcel of land in Toronto if not Ontario and Canada.
When the airport closes there will be a vigorous debate about what should happen to these lands, a debate that we should welcome. These lands are a tremendous opportunity and there should be a broad, inclusive discussion on how they should be redeveloped.
One group, no doubt, will advocate that all of the airport lands should be added to the Toronto Island Park. The beach will be a welcome addition. At one time, before the airport was built, this beach was thronged with people all summer. Adjacent to the beach was the popular Island Amusement Park with a baseball stadium rides, clowns and attractions. Some will argue that we should try and recapture these facilities.
It is unlikely that the Amusement Park will be rebuilt. We already have Canada’s Wonderland and the CNE Midway, but certainly the Beach will be reopened to the public and the Island Park will be expanded into the airport lands.
But the major debate will focus on housing. Should some of the airport land be used for housing? If there was some housing built along the Western Gap to replace the hangers and terminal, it would still allow a large parcel to be added to the park. Some of the housing could be affordable. This would bring year round life to this part of the city. More important, housing would provide taxes that would help to pay for the upkeep of the park.
Another idea that has been floated is to build an outstanding, iconic building somewhere on the property. This might be a cultural centre honoring First Nations people and administered by the Mississaugas, who once considered Toronto Island as their territory. Perhaps it would be a good place for a university or community college campus, or a site for movie studios or software companies.
One thing is certain. Any new development will benefit the city. At the moment the City of Toronto receives Payment in Lieu of Taxes from the Port Authority, much less than any other property owner pays in taxes. Any money generated from the $20 per passenger fee for use of the airport goes to the Toronto Port Authority, and they use that money to pay salaries and for airport improvement—a benefit that goes primarily to Porter because they have a monopoly on the commercial flights.
Whatever happens, the new development on the Island Airport property will be vastly superior to the noisy, polluting airport. The redevelopment will be an important part of the transformation of the Waterfront and will be enjoyed for generations to come.