Mississauga is forging ahead with an ambitious plan to redevelop parts of its Lake Ontario shoreline by backing the creation of a single agency to oversee it.
City council voted unanimously to have staffers design the structure of a public waterfront development corporation and draw up its budget. Their report is expected early in 2012.
While Waterfront Toronto has spent much of the past year grappling with attempts by Mayor Rob Ford's administration to tear up the agency's plans for Toronto's Port Lands – including a recently announced review that could lead to an overhaul of the project – the city to the west has been rapidly laying the ground work for its own waterfront plans.
The largest component is a new mixed-use neighbourhood, complete with canals, art galleries and a streetcar line, on the former site of the Lakeview Generating Station. City staffers are preparing a detailed plan that should be finished in about 18 months. City councillor Jim Tovey is optimistic construction will start soon after.
"Within six months of us finishing the master planning studies, we will have development applications coming in," he said.
A citizen task force has also identified several other pieces of waterfront real estate with redevelopment potential. These include a hangar-like building in Port Credit that could be turned into a covered market, and lands that once housed an Imperial Oil refinery.
In the meantime, the city is working on smaller projects along the water's edge. One involves fixing up a long-abandoned coal pier that juts a kilometre into Lake Ontario from the former power plant site and linking it to waterfront trails. Another entails recreating a wetland near the eastern edge of Lakeview.
Having a single organization oversee it all would ensure the plans are adhered to regardless of changes in government.
Along with interference from city hall, Toronto's waterfront redevelopment has been hampered by several competing agencies with stakes in the project, said planning consultant Ken Greenberg.
"You need mechanisms to ensure the implementation is joined at the hip to the vision," he said. "You have to have somebody with sufficient control and sufficient resources."
Waterfront Toronto is also obliged to seek funding from the municipal, provincial and federal governments on each project and co-ordinate between different landowners. Waterfront advocates in Mississauga say the city should give its development corporation control of the land, so it can borrow against its value.
"The thing we've identified is to put the land in now so that the corporation can raise the money itself," said task force member Brian Crombie. "The benefit of having the land in the corporation from the beginning is key."
This is how Halifax's Waterfront Development Corporation works. The agency owns the land and leases it to private developers. It also receives some funding from the province for individual projects, and can form partnerships with other organizations for one-off developments.
The model has been successful: the city's downtown opens onto a long boardwalk and a series of historic boat piers, with a mix of condominium complexes, businesses and museums. CEO Colin MacLean says the key was building public infrastructure first to lure private investment.
"It's become the most-visited tourist destination in Nova Scotia. It wasn't intended as one, but we created great public space and it drew tourists," he said. "By getting people here, we've found businesses want to be here."
The structure of Mississauga's agency has not yet been decided. For instance, the province owns the site of the former generating station, and will have to reach an agreement with the city on whether it donates the land to the waterfront development corporation or becomes a partner in the agency.
The city and the province signed a memorandum of understanding – essentially, an agreement-in-principle to work together – last year, and Mississauga-South MPP Charles Sousa says Queen's Park is on board.
"For the province, this could be a poster child for smart growth and sustainability," he said. "The progress to date has been tremendous."
And to keep moving forward, those with experience in the field say, Mississauga must keep its eye on the prize.
"You never get cheap, fast and high-quality at the same time," Mr. MacLean said. "You have to keep reinforcing to people that this isn't an overnight piece."