LET'S NOT KID THE TROOPS
If the city and province gang up and shove a marvelous new casino into Exhibition Place, it will kill the annual Ex, the largest in Canada, and wound, probably fatally, all the events that happen there outside the fair in August, such as the Indy race, Sportsmen's and Boat shows, CHIN picnic, One of a Kind craft show, and trade shows.
So the casino complex would be a flowing pot of gold, bringing in up to $168 million annually for the city, according to a report with estimates, guesstimes and wishful thinking produced under city manager Joe Pennachetti,.
But this molten gold would kill the Ex.
Don't believe any nonsense from city councillors such as Mark Grimes, the inept chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors, which is the fair's landlord. That board is so awful in stewardship. you would think it was a creation in a Dickens novel. (Grimes is one of the worst councillors at City Hall for missing votes. He's missed around 25%, which may, come to think of it, be a blessing.)
I just can't believe that Paul Godfrey would be one of the keys in this threat to a Toronto, indeed a Canadian, tradition.
I have known Godfrey since 1965 when I published the first of millions of Godfrey pictures in the media. As a columnist, I covered him as the best Metro chairman we ever had, and then reported directly to him from 1985 to 1997 when I was Editor of the Toronto Sun and he was the boss.
So I know him as a gifted man and as a loyal friend. He works tirelessly to help family and friends. I can't believe a man who cares so much for his home city would preside over the ruination of an event that began in 1879 and lately has drawn around 1.5 million people a year while it has put millions into the civic treasury.
Let's not kid the troops at City Hall, or the people of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. There is no way that you can take a quarter of the land of Exhibition Place and plunk some casino complex on it without killing everything else that happens there.
All you have to do is look at the soccer stadium there to see in concrete and steel how city politicians can screw up comparatively simple projects. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment took the public to the cleaners, and shook tens of millions out of our pockets before we were thrown aside like a used Kleenex.
The stadium cuts the grounds in two and has never lived up to the promises about full use during the Ex. And we didn't need it until City Hall screwed up. The old Grandstand was okay and demolished using millions that had been paid by users for its repair. The only reason was insiders worried that if it continued to exist, they wouldn't be able to make grandiose plans for a big new stadium for the Olympics and the NFL
If that is what we havc got in the past from city officials, Exhibition bureaucrats and councillors such as Grimes, there is not the slightest hope that they would do any better when it comes to saving the Ex and the grounds from a casino octupus which would wrap taxpayers in its tentacles and squeeze until we coughed up all sorts of hidden and costly concessions.
Meanwhile, the provincial government, which has demonstrated its incompetence by ruining everything it touches from electronic health to power generation, doesn't even offer up Ontario Place which could be a casino site providing the existing landfill was augmented with new acres, just like all the other land that has been created from the lake starting within a foot of the Lake Shore.
Why ruin the success of the Exhibition when any size and type of casino can be built largely on the failure of Ontario Place? The CNE directors showed united intelligence when the board passed a motion in September opposing a new big casino on top of the Ex.
There actually was a plan created by Tony O'Donohue, the municipal engineer, author, councillor and former mayoralty candidate, which would have given the city millions if it allowed more land to be created beside Ontario Place. It made a lot of sense, so naturally the politicians killed it.
Readers may remember that I have written often about a casino because as a former president of the CNE and vice-chair of the board of governors, I have had a seat in the first row of the boxing rings as provincial and municipal politicians have duked it out over the years about anything and everything at the Ex and Ontario Place.
I moved the motion for a CNE casino, chaired the casino committee, met with provincial officials about the CNE casino and know that the casino, which gives the Ex a transfusion each year of several million dollars, has never been a problem for the police or the neighborhood.
It is no surprise that most city officials do not worry about such problems in the latest casino report which is filled with glowing figures about all the money and jobs that would flow to the city. The city's medical officer of health complains that there is a public health issue with addicted gamblers, but addicted gamblers don't have to drive far now to throw away their money.
If you shoved it south in the lake off of Ontario Place, it could be a great benefit to the city, and hassle-free, providing there is careful public supervision of the project and there is an immediate solution to the parking of six thousand or more cars.
Gamblers aren't about to ride transit. And the area would choke, as it does now if it's a big day at the Ex and there is also an event at the Rogers Centre, when all those vehicles arrive.
Transit to the area can be improved, which is easy, and the existing road network can be improved by, among other things, getting rid of that stupid southerly extension of Dufferin St.
But parking's the key.
The politicians must also deal up front with what they will do with all the mllions. For starters, the Ex must be compensated for the loss of its profit from a casino which is used to bankroll all sorts of free entertainment. A good chunk of the profit should go to Toronto transit and Toronto health care, not just be dumped into general revenues to pay for the latest wet dreams at Queen's Park and City Hall
What I can see happening is that Exhibition Place and Ontario Place would be combined under one board with provincial and municipal representation. The casino would be built largely on landfill and stilts beside Ontario Place. The underground garage at the Ex would continue but the main parking would be in one giant garage on the existing Ontario Place parking lot and on landfill, and in a garage to the west, also on landfill.
City council has just passed a motion seconded by Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday which would allow the conservation authority to supervise landfill around Ontario Place.
Rob Ford and Godfrey and MGM and the new premier must not be allowed to bamboozle us, to wave an imaginary magic wand and pretend that some giant casino and pleasure centre can be dropped on Exhibition Place without squashing the life out of the old lady of the lakeshore.
So we can save millions by eliminating the duplication in the administrations of Exhibition and Ontario places. We can form a smart democratic body to run the whole pleasure and convention complex by creating enough new land for parks and parking that doesn't kill or cripple any present use. But we can only do that if we get much better planning and thinking than had been devoted to this issue so far by every stakeholder, from Queen's Park and City Hall to that silent board of governors.
Perhaps Godfrey should give up his present successful jobs in publishing, gambling and private and public boards and bring this new Ontario Exhibition Casino to fruition as his last great contribution to his city. After all, he needs a legacy more than he needs money!
I wrote a column once suggesting Godrey resign from being the boss of the regional municipality and become the waterfront czar and supervise, as an able pragmatic instigator, the development of a new attractive unified water's edge for Toronto. As great as Chicago's! I must have made a persuasive case, apparently, because Gina, reading this column at breakfast, demanded to know from her husband just what was going on with this job as czar.
Better late than never. Better, actually, than playing any role in the destruction of the Ex and its home which has survived for more than a century even when politicians didn't give a damn.