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Toronto casino complex envisions dual towers which could be tallest in Canada

Oxford Properties' plan for the Toronto convention centre area in downtown

Handout photo courtesy of Oxford Properties

Two towers proposed as part of a Toronto casino development could be among the tallest in Canada, rivalling in height the skyscrapers of the city's financial district and a planned trio of Frank Gehry-designed condominium complexes.

Oxford Properties Group wants to demolish part of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and rebuild it as a major mixed-use project. Besides the casino, it would include hotels plus two towers that combine offices with residential units. These skyscrapers would both have an estimated height of about 326 metres, more than 1,000 feet. Two shorter buildings would stand 254 and 184 metres.

They are only the latest in a string of increasingly tall towers planned across downtown and towards the city's waterfront, raising fears that development and population growth are outpacing already strained infrastructure.

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On Thursday, Oxford said the building heights are only "thoughts," and the company isn't wedded to the size.

"The height isn't really a major factor," said Michael Kitt, an executive vice-president at Oxford, in an interview. "We see these as preliminary numbers that would change."

Office space, which would take up 40 storeys in each tower, would be the buildings' core component, Mr. Kitt said. The upper floors would be made up of apartments, and the final height would be determined by market demand.

The revelation comes just weeks after theatre impresario David Mirvish unveiled plans for three 80-storey towers in the Entertainment District on King Street West, designed by the world-renowned Mr. Gehry. By comparison, First Canadian Place, the country's tallest office tower, is 72 storeys. Its roof is 298 metres up.

City Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose ward includes the convention centre, argues that the sheer size of the project will worsen congestion. The convention centre sits on Front Street, in the shadow of the CN Tower and a few blocks from Union Station. Several surrounding streets, meanwhile, are access points to the Gardiner Expressway.

"It's insane," he said. "It's just the wrong project in the wrong part of the city. None of it is real. It's a fantasy proposal designed to snare a casino."

He said Oxford, the real-estate arm of pension fund OMERS, is dangling the prospect of a major project to entice the city to allow a gambling palace to be built on its land.

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Mr. Kitt tried to assuage fears over the complex's size. He said casino-goers would mostly be there on evenings and weekends, so would not add too much congestion to the streets at rush hour. The project will also build a tunnel for buses and trucks and add more entrances to the parking facilities, he said.

Planning and architecture consultant Ken Greenberg said building proposals such as these seem to be shifting parts of Toronto toward a development model akin to densely packed, vertical cities such as Tokyo. But those cities, crisscrossed by subway lines and served by high-speed trains, have far better infrastructure.

Toronto must think seriously about how to build and pay for amenities – everything from transit to water to the power grid – in the face of massive development, and cannot simply approve one building at a time.

"You need to look beyond individual plans and think of the area as a whole," Mr. Greenberg said.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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