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Pan Am developers await short list of bidders for athlete's village

A crowd of people sign a mural with the new logo on it during the official launch of the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games where a street party which was held at Maple Leaf Square in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

As the city grapples with ballooning costs of its ambitious Pan-American project, plans for the village that will host thousands of athletes, and subsequently morph into a mixed-income waterfront community, are moving forward. Infrastructure Ontario plans to announce the successful short-listed bidders for the project over the next several days.

But the project remains fraught with unknowns: How will it be financed? What's the definition of "20 per cent affordable housing," and how much will that ratio change in the coming months?

It's still not clear whether a planned light-rail extension along Cherry Street will materialize. While Waterfront Toronto - and the developers bidding on the project - are still planning for it, Mayor Rob Ford has publicly opposed light rail and the province confirmed Monday there is no funding for that project.

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A successful bidder won't be named until this summer at the earliest, which means time constraints will be very tight. The drop-dead completion date is early 2015, which leaves about 3 1/2 years to design, build and - crucially - sell thousands of units of prime waterfront development.

And while its proponents insist this is nothing like Vancouver's athletes village experience - where the city ended up holding the bag for the project when its private developer failed to meet payments - the spectre of Toronto's project becoming a municipal money pit looms large.

"My strong advice to anybody thinking about building a village is, don't try to make it two things at once - utilitarian, short-term lodging for athletes and a long-term, luxury condominium project," said Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs.

"That doesn't mean it can't be on the waterfront - I don't see why low-income people shouldn't have a view. But the economic plan has to be in the public interest, not an attempt to participate in the marketplace on a speculative issue, which is what happened here."

Vancouver's cautionary tale hasn't stopped Toronto developers from bidding on the Pan-Am village, however. They are now waiting for an announcement by Infrastructure Ontario - possibly as soon as Friday - as to who made the short list. Those short-listed will be invited to bid on a request for proposals, and a final candidate will be chosen this summer.

The three-year design/build window is daunting but doable, says Cityzen Development's Joe Cordiano; more challenging is whether there will be enough takers for thousands of units in a short period of time.

"I don't think the issue is really the construction deadlines - we can certainly meet those," he said. "I think the challenge is going to be with respect to the marketplace and the absorption rate for these units."

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While Cityzen has expressed interest in the project in the past, Mr. Cordiano would not confirm whether it has bid.

"There are many challenges," said Tridel's sales and marketing vice-president Jim Ritchie. "We would not have gone this far if we'd not thought we could overcome them. We think we have very viable solutions."

Waterfront Toronto President John Campbell said he doesn't worry about the project being too ambitious, but fears the city will opt for a quick-and-dirty route out of convenience.

"What I worry about is just the expediencies of life," he said. "As we get closer and closer … there's always the risk that shortcuts or diversions happen. And we've got to make sure were able to face those urgencies but with the right solutions.

"If we build to our plans, everything will be fine."

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