CommunityAIR – working towards a clean, green waterfront
For Immediate Release Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Contact: Brian Iler, Chair
416 598 0544 (work direct)
Ports Toronto today announced it is seeking a financial investor in its Island Airport. By doing so, it admits it has failed in its decades-long efforts to operate a viable airport on the Toronto Islands.
• What investor would have any interest in an Airport where its primary user – Porter Airlines – closed its business a year ago, and regularly postposes its restart date? As of last November, it owed $45.3M in back rent to the Airport terminal owner.
• And what investor would invest in an Airport that has just 12 years left on a lease from the City of Toronto for a significant portion of the Airport’s lands? That lease to Ports Toronto (called the Tripartite Agreement) expires June 30, 2033, just over 12 years from now.
• Is this, really, an effort to privatize a valuable public asset? We saw how the privatization of Highway 407 has utterly failed to serve the public interest. We can’t let that happen here.
• If Ports Toronto needs a financial investor to keep the Island Airport operating, isn’t it time to start imagining what better uses of the extremely valuable 215-acre Island Airport lands would serve the public interest?
The waterfront communities, and the millions who flock to the waterfront for recreation have savoured the peace and quiet that the Covid-induced shutdown of commercial passenger operations at the Island Airport has produced.
Close the Island Airport and create a “clean, green waterfront.”
No one wants to go back to the noise and pollution that emanated from the Island Airport when it was in operation.
“We call on the federal government and the City of Toronto to ensure that this noxious Airport is finally shut down, and converted to parkland.” said Brian Iler, Chair, CommunityAIR. “It’s time to finish our waterfront’s rejuvenation and finally create a wholly clean, green waterfront.”
What Should Happen Now?
“First, Porter should move to Pearson, if it survives. There is ample capacity at Pearson , and the Union-Pearson Express makes Pearson as accessible as the Island Airport for downtown users.”
Pearson will require immense subsidies to maintain its viability, given its COVID related losses. Moving Porter to Pearson reduces the amount of subsidy required. On the other hand, keeping Porter at the Island Airport would require huge additional subsidies for Pearson, and subsidies to the Island Airport.
That leaves private aviation.
We know from pre-Porter times that private aviation business is insufficient to pay Island Airport operating costs, and significant annual subsidies from the City were necessary.
Given the massive shortage of parks in downtown Toronto, converting the Island Airport to parkland satisfies the public interest far more than reserving a huge portion of the extremely valuable waterfront lands for a few private plane owners.
One solution to the parks shortage has been to consider building a 20 acre rail deck park at a cost of about $1.7 billion. Converting the 215-acre Island Airport lands to parklands would be a small fraction of that cost. And the existing passenger tunnel provides easy year round access.
Any sale of an interest in the Airport lands will need the approval of the City. Any such approval should only be given following a comprehensive consideration of alternative uses, and a robust community consultation process.
We look to the City to commit to such a consideration and process.
Waterfront Toronto, with its successful track record of exceptional waterfront projects, should be centrally involved in that process.
There are ample examples of other cities that have recognized the public interest and have chosen to close their City Centre airports:
• Berlin has now shut two of its four airports – Tempelhof (maintained as a public park, as decided by a 2014 plebiscite), and Tegel (where housing is planned)
• Chicago’s mayor famously bulldozed the Meigs field runway under cover of darkness – it is now a public park, Northerly Island
• Edmonton City Centre Airport was closed in November 2013 and is being redeveloped as a planned community called Blatchford.
• Santa Monica will close its problematic airport in 2028, with plans to convert it to parkland, while drastically shortening its runway in 2017 from 5000′ to 3500′ to reduce jet traffic.