Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Proposed Markham arena would rival ACC

A new 20,000 seat arena for the GTA?

If Graeme Roustan has his way, such a sparkling new building could be ready for business in Markham by 2014.

Roustan, Chairman and CEO of GTA Sports and Entertainment, acknowledged on Tuesday that “we’re looking forward to bringing our official proposal to the town of Markham in the near future.”

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti reportedly was going to update Markham council during a private session of a meeting on Tuesday night.

Town councillors are aware of the project but have been publicly muzzled after signing non-disclosure agreements.

The arena, which is estimated to cost $300 million, would be part of a massive project spearheaded by Roustan and Toronto-area land developer Rudy Bratty, who has an estimated net worth of $940 million. The proposed real estate venture calls for the construction of a huge entertainment and sports complex that would include the arena.

The arena would be situated west of Kennedy Rd., north of Highway 407 and west of the Unionville GO Station on land owned by Bratty.

Roustan, who also is the chairman of the Bauer hockey equipment company, insisted that the proposed arena is not predicated on wooing a second National Hockey League team to the Golden Horseshoe, claiming the building’s purpose is to supply a venue for concerts and other entertainment shows.

Whether the NHL one day decides to look at putting a second team in southern Ontario will have no bearing on whether the arena gets built, Roustan said.

“This market has clearly demostrated the need for a second world class (entertainment) facility,” Roustan told the Toronto Sun on Tuesday night. “This market certainly can support it.”

In other words, the GTA Centre, the name of the proposed arena, would provide a viable option to concert goers to the Air Canada Centre. Indeed, it is believed that show promoter Live Event already has shown interest.

Roustan, who was one of the finalists to buy the Montreal Canadiens a number of years ago before the fabled franchise was purchased by American George Gillett, claimed the arena does not need an NHL tenant to be a money-making venue.

“We’ve done a lot of research on this,” he said. “That’s why we decided to go ahead with this.

“The design of the facility is for multi-purpose usage. It has been designed to know that hockey can be played in the building. This building can support badminton, basketball and any other sports, too.”

Roustan hopes the first shovel could go into the ground by 2012.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

American company eyes Maple Leafs

A U.S. investment company is interested in buying the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nine months after the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan announced it was selling its 80 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the Star has learned that the company has caught the eye of a huge U.S.-based private equity firm with a track record in sports and media.

Providence Equity Partners has inquired about Teachers’ stake in Maple Leaf Sports, a person familiar with the matter said, but it’s unclear whether it has made a formal offer.

Providence Equity’s interest comes at a time when marquee sports franchises are commanding more than $1 billion, making it increasingly difficult for wealthy individuals to purchase teams.

“Now it’s all about the financial play and the investment, not the emotion or getting into the locker room,” said Brian Cooper, a former Maple Leaf Sports executive, who is now president of S&E Sponsorship Group, a sports consulting company.

Teams that have been bought out by private equity firms and their founders include the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons and the Philadelphia 76ers.

MLSE has added a popular soccer team and outdoor stadium to its list of assets in recent years and has a flurry of successful real estate projects. The Leafs’ average ticket price, for instance, is twice that of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, said Bob Stellick.

“They’ve done an unbelievable job maximizing revenue,” said Stellick, a Toronto-based sports marketing consultant. “They’ve taken their last speck of land and turned it into valuable condos and they’ve done better than anyone could have expected getting the most out of their ticket revenue.”

Where Maple Leaf Sports stands to make more money is in broadcasting.

Industry officials say Maple Leaf Sports’ next big-picture investment could include folding Leafs TV and NBA Canada TV, both little-watched digital channels, into a regional sports network styled after Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network. YES Network, which started in 2002, broadcasts more than 130 New York Yankees games a year.

A pioneer in television sports, the YES Network also broadcasts games of the Yankees’ minor-league affiliates and replays of classic games, and it has shown a televised game in 3D.

Providence is one of the original investors in the YES Network. While the YES Network doesn’t release financial details, analysts have estimated its annual revenue as more than $435 million. The network itself is said to be worth $3 billion.

Others have followed the YES Network model. Time Warner in California is creating a regional sports network built around the Los Angeles Lakers, and the University of Texas recently created the Longhorn Network.

Rogers Communications has shown interest in purchasing MLSE for the same reasons that Providence would want to buy the company: to maximize TV profits. Rogers, which already owns baseball’s Blue Jays, has multiple publishing platforms, such as cable, radio and wireless, and has the institutional knowledge to start a sports channel like the YES Network.

That MLSE has languished on the market has surprised some. But the debt markets are still reeling three years after the U.S. economic meltdown, which means it is more difficult for an investor to use borrowed money to pay the $1.5 billion that Teachers’ is believed to be asking for its stake.

“It used to be you could put up 10 to 15 per cent of a deal in cash and find a group to lend the rest,” said Larry Grimes, a Maryland-based sports investment consultant who has advised on the sale of Major League Baseball teams. “Today, the cash requirement is more like 35 or 40 per cent. That’s going to make you think twice.”

The NHL’s cloudy labour picture is yet another complicating factor, with the league’s agreement with the players association up next summer. The NBA has locked out its players and the basketball season is in jeopardy.

According to internal financial statements obtained by the Star, MLSE estimated it would make a profit of $105 million this year on revenue of $477 million. It's unclear how much of that revenue comes from hockey. Forbes magazine recently estimated the Leafs generated $168 million last season, some $30 million more than the company made from the Raptors. Several analysts, however, say the gap between the Maple Leafs and Raptors’ revenue is even more pronounced than Forbes’ estimate, meaning a potential NHL work stoppage would be more damaging to the company.

It’s possible neither Rogers nor Providence ends up with the company. Minority owner Larry Tanenbaum has the right to match any offer for Teachers’ 80 per cent interest.

Rogers, Providence, Teachers and Maple Leaf Sports all declined to comment.

While Toronto casual sports fans might not have heard of Providence, which is based in Rhode Island, the company is both well known in sports circles and familiar to Teachers’.

The company manages more than $23 billion and has invested in more than 100 companies in 20 countries since it was formed in 1989.

It’s unclear whether Tanenbaum would match any offer for Teachers’ stake.

One person close to Tanenbaum said he would consider matching any offer to buy out Teachers’ and then file an initial public offering for Maple Leaf Sports, a move that would be both complex and controversial.

While such an offering would probably be wildly popular with investors, the NHL and the NBA would both probably oppose such a move because it would make public more of their internal financial information. But it’s unlikely that the leagues could do anything to stop a public stock listing.

Novel idea: A library that sells books?

Perhaps you’ve gone to the Toronto Public Library website to get some information about a book you want to borrow. But are you really sure you want to read the book for free? Maybe you’d rather buy it?

The idea of hooking library patrons up with a retailer is one of a number of money-making proposals in a library budget committee report to be considered by the board at its Nov. 21 meeting.

The report suggests that chief librarian Jane Pyper look into the feasibility of a retail function on the library website, including partnerships with book retailers.

In addition, the report suggests Pyper examine the possibility of selling e-books on the TPL website, maybe partnering with OverDrive, a digital distributor based in Cleveland, Ohio.

But the suggestion the library delve into retail falls flat with former board member Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who left the board in September.

“We have a great website — I don’t think we need to confuse people by pushing them to some retailer’s website,’’ he said.

Another proposal in the report, to steeply increase fines for overdue items, also drew his fire.

“Charging excessive fines to make up for budget shortfalls is a user fee — it’s no longer an incentive to bring a book back on time,’’ said Chaleff-Freudenthaler. “Increasing fines is making it more expensive to be a library user.’’

According to the TPL website, adults pay 30 cents a day for overdue books, teens 15 cents and children 10 cents. The budget committee recommends increasing adult fines to 60 cents, 75 cents and $1 per day (depending on materials borrowed), children’s fines to 25 cents, 35 cents and 50 cents, and Best Bet book and DVD fines to $1.10, $1.25 and $1.50 per day.

The report suggests looking into the feasibility of a different fine schedule for low-income users. It also recommends creating a new fine for people who put holds on books and don’t pick them up, making people pay for parking at branches, selling used books, expanding advertising channels and opportunities including an advertising bookmark and getting sponsorship of Wi-Fi services.

The report says that some of the suggestions, whether leading to increased revenues or lower costs, are not expected to have a significant impact in 2012, but could do so in the following years.

At its Oct. 17 meeting, the library board approved efficiencies and additional revenues that will net about $9.7 million — representing a 5.7 per cent decrease from the 2011 budget. Mayor Rob Ford has demanded a 10 per cent budget cut from every city department. The library must cut $17 million.

Africentric high school wins board’s blessing

Toronto will have a second Africentric school as early as next fall after trustees voted in favour of the controversial initiative.

In a 14 to 6 vote, the “concept of continuing an elementary-to-secondary Africentric school pathway for students” was approved to loud applause from supporters in the public gallery.

The Toronto District School Board opened an elementary black-focused school in 2009, in part to help stem the 40 per cent dropout rate among black youth.

It now has 185 students, a small waiting list and seen student success on provincial standardized tests — although it has weathered some internal strife.

Director of Education Chris Spence said depending on the outcome of community consultations, the school could open in September 2012 or 2013.

Speaking with reporters after the vote, he called it a “great opportunity to serve our students . . . (And) support students in the best way we can.”

He addressed concerns raised by Trustee Chris Tonks that the board is headed down a slippery slope with the potential for more demands for schools based on ethnicity, saying there will be different solutions for each community considered at-risk.

He also said he believes the school is reaching at-risk black youth, even though some critics have said the school has attracted high achieving students who would succeed anyway.

The secondary school would allow students to continue learning in a supportive environment that celebrates and teaches their heritage, Trustee Shaun Chen told the standing-room only crowd at the monthly board meeting.

Trustee Cathy Dandy said she supported the school because of the close relationships between staff, students and families, which she called the key to success — rather than any specific program or modified curriculum.

However, Trustee Mari Rutka said she worried about separating students. “When do we learn to get along with those who are different from us?”

Trustee Maria Rodrigues caused some controversy when she said she considered voting against an Africentric high school, an act of discrimination.

No site has been named as yet. Earlier, Oakwood Collegiate was chosen as a location for the Africentric high school but quickly quashed after an outcry from the community.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Levy: Still gravy galore at City Hall

TORONTO - Transportation services worker Jay Harvey was one of the 1,136 city employees who applied to leave under the much-touted Voluntary Separation program (VSP).

Harvey, an Engineering Technologist/Technician who handles construction-related permits, will turn 55 at the end of February, at which point he is eligible to retire.

He’d hoped to be able to leave this month, latest next, with a salary to tide him over until he his retiree benefits kick in -- as offered in the corporate-wide VSP announced with great fanfare by city manager Joe Pennachetti this past July.

But he was turned down unceremoniously last week, not because his job was essential but because his department was “unwilling to give up any vacancies,” he told me Monday.

As Harvey explains, if he walks out the door at the end of February, they can post his position and hire someone new. But if he’s given a buyout, his position is lost -- forever.

Despite what city officials may mouth about the new era of restraint, what he came up against was a culture of managers who simply don’t want to sacrifice any bodies.

“The whole culture is one of empire-building ... they (managers) look out for each other,” said the 35-year public sector worker.

In fact, it would appear that the empire builders in Transportation Services were downright recalcitrant about giving up positions. Of the 138 employees who applied for the VSP, a mere 17 were given the nod.

Of the 1,136 unionized and management staff who applied for the buyouts corporation-wide, only 230 were approved.

Harvey, a member of CUPE 79, is not surprised with the low VSP numbers. “I have yet to find anybody who was approved in Transportation,” he says.

Another Transportation employee, who is past 60 years old and eligible to retire, was also turned down with the excuse he’s an “essential service.”

The CUPE 416 member, who preferred not have his name used, said his yard is soon to be consolidated with other yards, leaving plenty of staff to do the job.

“How many brains does it take to fill a pothole?” he asked. “Sure there are enough people.”

City manager Joe Pennachetti defended the low numbers, saying city employees didn’t realize it would be “impossible” to let go those applying from programs cost-shared with the province -- around 30% of the applicants.

“I am not going to pay someone six months’ salary for a job I’m going to replace two months later,” he said.

Asked about the other 70% of the applicants, he said he went through all the categories, division by division, with each general manager because he was concerned the “numbers were low” -- insisting the program was followed.

“A manager tells an employee your job is critical and we’re keeping it and they read that as empire-building,” he said.

Look, Pennachetti can mouth the party line all he wants.

However, I doubt very much this empire-building is restricted to Transportation Services.

The culture of entitlement exists throughout the corporation and many managers would sooner put pins in their eyes than lose the fiefdoms they’ve built up since amalgamation.

If Mayor Rob Ford and his Team were naive about anything, it was just how much determination it will take to turn the culture around at City Hall.

Most empire-builders have been around far longer than Ford. They figure they will outlast this mayor, as they did the last one and the one before him.

Harvey, who wrote an e-mail to all councillors and the mayor this past weekend urging them to do a review of the VSP program to ensure the criteria were followed, says the managers too are “tripping over each other” in his department and are a definitely a source of gravy.

He added that the management culture -- which encourages preferential treatment for certain city customers and nepotism -- is “completely different than the political culture.”

“Until someone cleans house and changes the culture, it’s (the corporation) still very much full of the old ideas,” Harvey said “There are those who are still resisting amalgamation.”

T.O. faces child care crisis: Mammoliti

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti warned an “imminent collapse” of child care is coming in Toronto if the province doesn’t come to the table with its chequebook.

Mammoliti, the head of the mayor’s task force on child care, says the city needs $123.2 million from the Ontario government to prevent a child care crisis.

“This is not an issue that the city of Toronto can solve locally, this is a situation created by the province and it is one that can only be resolved by the province,” Mammoliti said Monday.

The consensus from the task force is that the city can’t afford to wait and needs to start child care talks with the province.

The lack of funding for child care is being compounded, Mammoliti argued, from the province’s plan to start full-day kindergarten. Pulling those children out of the child care system will force child care centres to rely on increased rates for the remaining younger children.

“I’m not exaggerating when I state that this is an emergency situation and citizens of Toronto are its victims,” he said. “The time for talk is over, we need a made-for-Toronto solution and we need it now.”

Earlier this month, the community development and recreation committee voted to urge city council to petition Premier Dalton McGuinty about the “urgent need” to provide millions to preserve the system.

Councillor Janet Davis said she was pleased that Mammoliti has acknowledged “that we have a revenue problem at the City of Toronto when it comes to child care.”

City to drive unplated cars off streets

TORONTO - The licensing and standards committee wants the city to be able to crack down on unplated cars parked on city streets.

Councillor Frances Nunziata asked city staff to crack down on illegally parked cars without licence plates.

“We can’t tow because they don’t have licence plates? I mean we’ve got to change that, that is the dumbest thing,” Nunziata said. “I understand you can’t ticket because there is no licence plate but tow it. That’s common sense.”

Staff told the committee that right now cars without plates can’t be ticketed and therefore can’t be towed.

“Forget the ticket, just tow the damn car,” Nunziata said.

She called the loophole de facto free parking.

“Why would people want to come and get a parking permit from the city when all they have to do is take their plates off?” she asked.

The committee asked staff to work with Toronto Police to look at the feasibility of enabling parking officers to automatically tow unplated vehicles illegally parked or stored on city streets.

At the same licensing committee meeting, councillors voted to put off any changes to Toronto’s tow truck rates until March 2012.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Warmington: So much to love in Toronto

TORONTO - You know how a survey said people hate Toronto?

Well some stuck up for Hogtown.

“I feel very lucky to live in Toronto,” said Maple Leafs president and GM Brian Burke. “When people ask me the best part of my job, I say it’s that I get to live in Toronto. People are marvellous, the city is diverse, safe and clean. I love it here.”

We love you too Brian. You get us that Stanley Cup and will build a Burkie statue. If you don’t, we will still love you but miss you.

Just teasing Brian, who was the only celebrity to get back to me on this. He went over the boards for the Big Smoke.


Toronto really is the greatest city in the country and I think it’s our strict rules that help with this distinction. For example what other city would have its parking assassins ticket people going past the allotted one hour parking limit for being held up at a Remembrance Day ceremony? Photographer Ernest Doroszuk was telling me it happened outside a ceremony near Bayview and Davisville. No bylaw tickets yet though at occupied St. James Park, where you can park on the grass and receive no fine.

At least the revenue from the parking tickets handed out at the Remembrance Day ceremony will help cover the cost of the TTC returning the $3 fare that they have decided to refund because poor Councillor Pam McConnell was forced to cough up since a streetcar driver didn’t recognize her freebee card.

Maybe that officer is the right one to go down to St. James and hand out some bylaw tickets at Occupy Toronto. It may also help raise some cash to cover the approximately $5-million worth of unpainted police cruisers sitting for the past eight-weeks hidden from view on top of the Toronto Police Traffic Service’s building in Liberty Village.

A reader, concerned about the police budget problems, asked what gives? Const. Tony Vella tells me the 150 or so Ford Crown Victoria’s were bought ahead of the discontinuation of the that car model. They will be brought into action in the years ahead.

“It’s a cost saving,” he said of buying that many cars ahead of time.

Just hope they have rust-proofing.

Two arrested during Ford's Remembrance Day speech

TORONTO - Two people arrested during the Remembrance Day service in front of the Old City Hall cenotaph won’t be facing criminal charges.

Both incidents happened around Mayor Rob Ford’s Remembrance Day speech just after 11 a.m. on Friday.

“They were in the audience and they were acting up,” Toronto Police Const. Tony Vella said.

One woman, 55, was arrested as she shouted through a megaphone while Ford delivered his Remembrance Day speech. Ford continued speaking as the woman could be heard screaming “Shame!”

The shouting continued until cops arrested her for breach of the peace.

Immediately after Ford’s speech a 58-year-old man started to yell at the mayor, walked into the VIP area and approached him.

An RCMP officer waiting to lay a wreath grabbed the man and handed him over to Toronto Police.

The woman was released with no charges and the man was charged under the Provincial Offences Act with being intoxicated in a public place, police said.

Councillor Josh Matlow, who was one of the city councillors in attendance at the ceremony, called the protest of the mayor at a Remembrance Day ceremony “completely inappropriate.”

The man appeared to be yelling out Ford’s name and “didn’t seem to be too happy with the mayor,” Matlow said.

“There is always time to assert one’s positions on municipal affairs but at a Remembrance Day ceremony, that’s the time to remember the sacrifices made by our veterans,” he said.

Friday, November 11, 2011

City votes to keep fluoride in our water

TORONTO - The city’s budget committee flushed a surprise motion Thursday to remove fluoride from Toronto’s water supply.

But the committee did approve a 9% increase in water rates and a garbage rate freeze.

The residential garbage rate freeze comes with a price, councillors voted to toss out pickup of extra recyclables that don’t fit in residents’ blue bins and to drop the number of community environment days from 44, one in each councillors’ ward, to just 11 across the city.

Currently, Toronto residents can leave overflow recyclables in clear plastic bags for free pickup when they put out their blue bins.

Budget chief Mike Del Grande tried unsuccessfully to get the committee to remove fluoride from the water - a move that would save around $2 million.

“I have difficulty with putting anything in anything that is not required to be there,” Del Grande said. “It’s not the 1940’s and 1930’s or whatever where people’s teeth were rotting, etc. There is toothpaste that has fluoride in them, there is all kinds of other things.”

Del Grande argued council, not the public health board, needs to have a debate on fluoride in the water supply.

“Why take fluoride into your body if you don’t have to? That’s my position,” he said.

After the committee voted down his motion, Del Grande said he won’t push the issue at executive committee.

Councillor Chin Lee voted against the two budgets and said he’s not sure whether he’ll support them at city council.

Councillor Gord Perks described the approved garbage budget as “a big whopping increase for tenants and no increase for homeowners.”

He argued with a “modest increase” in the garbage fees the city could still provide pickup of extra recyclables from single-family homes.

Councillor Mike Layton was baffled staff would suggest getting rid of overflow recycling pickup.

“You gotta be joking, seriously,” Layton told the committee.

Public Works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong said residents can get a bigger bin if their blue bin is overflowing with recyclables.

“Or they’ll have to wait until the next go around,” he said.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

City's aims to act on Occupy Toronto protesters

TORONTO - The City of Toronto appears ready to change its approach to Occupy Toronto beginning next week.

City manager Joe Pennachetti wasn't saying much about the almost month-long protest in St. James Park other than the fact the city will have more to say after the weekend.

"Starting next week we will have more discussions with those people at the site and we will be moving forward with appropriate steps relative to that site," he told reporters Thursday.

Pennachetti declined to elaborate what those "appropriate steps" would be but stressed the city is putting together a plan.

He wouldn't say how much notice he believes the city would be required to give the protesters to leave the park.

"We'll have a statement issued early next week, I'll leave it at that," Pennachetti said.

The city manager's comments come a day after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford broke his silence about whether or not the protest should be allowed to continue in the downtown park.

“They’ve had a peaceful protest but I think it’s time we asked them to leave,” Ford said Wednesday. “I think it’s time we asked the protesters to move on.”

St. James Park has been home to about 500 protesters since Oct. 15, a day of global protests against the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small elite.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mississauga high school cancels Muslim prayers

TORONTO - A Mississauga high school was scrambling Monday to cancel a Muslim prayer session it was going to hold as part of a student dinner to mark Eid, the celebration ending Ramadan.

Flyers had been provided to students at Mississauga Secondary School announcing a night-time “Eid Dinner” to be held in its cafeteria this coming Thursday. Mughrab group prayers were to start at 5:05 p.m., according to the flyer.

Group prayers are not allowed at school events, confirmed Peel District School Board spokeswoman Carla Pereira, adding that the school’s senior administration knew about the upcoming dinner, but not about the planned prayers.

The evening had been requested by the school’s muslim student association and sponsored by a teacher at the school, said Pereira.

The Sun had been tipped off to the prayers in an email from a concerned parent.

On Monday, Judith Beriault, acting principal of the Mavis Rd. And Courtneypark Dr. W area school, abruptly scratched the prayer portion of the dinner – just hours after the Sun contacted the PDSB about the evening.

“The board has a process that all schools need to follow, and part of that process is group prayers are not part of a school event,” said Pereira, adding later in an email that “All celebrations of faith and culture need to be inclusive of all participants.”

All the school’s students, their respective families and school staff were invited to the dinner.

Eid celebrates the end of Ramadan, a month-long fasting ritual and considered the holiest of Islamic holidays. Eid traditionally comes with prayer, gift-giving (particularly to children) and time spent with family and friends.

Valley Park Middle School – a North York school under the the Toronto District School Board – came under fire last July for opening its cafeteria to allow Muslim religious leaders to conduct weekly prayer services for hundreds of the school’s Muslim students.

Critics of the prayer sessions said religious services should not be provided in publicly-funded schools. Some Opponents said the TDSB was bending to the wishes of religious leaders in the Muslim community.

“The school’s events reflect the needs of the community,” said the PDSB’s Pereira when first asked about MSS’s Eid dinner. And while the school has a large Muslim population as part of its student body, Pereira could not provide specific numbers on how many attend MSS.

Schools provide events “that are reflective of the community, (and) schools know the needs of their students based on what students as for individually and as groups through associations...,” said Pereira.

Water rates going up again

TORONTO - Water rates are poised to go up 9% for Toronto residents next year but there will be no garbage fee hike.

A report going to the city’s budget committee on Thursday recommends the water hike - part of a planned annual 9% increase every year until 2014 to help fix the city’s aging water infrastructure.

Public Works chairman Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong attributed the residential garbage rate freeze to city council’s decision to contract out more of Toronto’s trash collection.

CUPE Local 416 president Mark Ferguson, whose union represents the city’s garbage workers, said the city should be looking at a reduction in the garbage rate “if in fact the (contracting out) numbers are true.”

“I think we all realize those numbers are a fallacy,” Ferguson said.

“I think it is rather strange that the city would claim savings but not pass it on to taxpayers,” he added.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pan Am dreams in T.O.

The West Don Lands may look barren as motorists zip by on the Gardiner Expressway, but it’s going to be a bustling mecca for 8,500 athletes and team officials by 2015.

Bits and pieces of what will eventually be the $1-billion Pan-Am Athletes’ Village are already beginning to sprout on the 80-acre, provincially-owned site. Bulldozers are excavating the area east of Cherry St. where the athletes will stay. Next on the list is a temporary dining hall, a parking lot for International Olympic Committee members and a transportation centre — near Cherry and Mill Sts. — where buses shuttling the athletes to and from the airport will park.

“The village fit very nicely into the plan,” said Meg Davis, vice-president of development for West Don Lands at Waterfront Toronto. “We’re able to take what was already going to be developed and advance that construction and have a community come online and be knit back into the fabric of the city much sooner than might have happened.”

Now that the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, have wrapped up, the spotlight has shifted to Toronto which will host the sporting spectacle in 2015.

Will everything be ready?

“We’re right on track and right on budget,” says Ian Troop, CEO of the TO2015, the organizing committee of the Pan-Am games.

“We’ve got five major builds and they’re all moving forward through the procurement process,” adds Troop, whose organizaton is working with a $1.4-billion budget. “At this point, we’re right where we need to be and moving forward briskly on these.”

The five big builds include revamping Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton for soccer events, building a Pan Am Aquatics Centre and field house at University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and a 12,500-seat stadium at York University. A pool and field house will be constructed in Unionville and there are also plans for a velodrome to host cycling events — location to be determined.

“We expect to have all of them starting construction in the middle part of 2012 to be finished by 2014, which will be for test events and it will be a full year ahead of the games,” Troop explains.

The construction, though, has progressed quickest along the waterfront.

The 6.5-acre Athletes’ Village is part of the second phase of the whole West Don Lands revitalization, developed by TO2015, Waterfront Toronto and Infrastructure Ontario.

Included in the West Don Lands revitalization is an 18-acre Don River Park adjacent to Front St., which should be finished by the end of this year.

Right now, a completed wooden pavilion stands at the top of the hill and serves as the centrepiece for the park. In it are washrooms, solar panels, an office for the city’s parks department and shelter for users of the park.

The area east of the pavilion towards the Don River is expected to be completed mid-2012 because more construction is required for flood-protection, Davis says.

“From the park over to Cherry St. is the centrepiece of the West Don Lands,” she adds. “It will house the Front St. extension, which will have cafes, a large boulevard and small parkettes. That will be used for the Athletes’ Village for Pan-Am, that will be permanent construction for residential and affordable housing, as well as community centre, student housing and other local community requirements.”

A 25-metre pool, gym, fitness centre and indoor track is included in the village plan.

The Pan-Am Village needs to be completed by late 2014 in order for games organizers to set up necessary amenities. In September 2015, after the games wrap up, the buildings will start to be occupied by purchasers and affordable housing providers.

Interested people who want a sneak peak of the construction zone can even log on at www.waterfrontoronto.ca/webcameras to see the time-lapse since 2009.

Troop said there’s a “strong team” made up of representatives from Ontario’s transportation ministry, Metrolinx and local municipal groups who are in charge of making sure traffic congestion doesn’t get too irritating.

An Air Rail Link, which will transport 5,000 passengers daily to and from the Pearson airport, is going to be ready in time for the game, according to a Metrolinx statement.

Transportation and shelter are big concerns for Curt Harnett, the Assistant Chef de Mission for the IOC and who will oversee the athletes at the 2015 games.

“Moving so many athletes around is going to be a significant challenge,” he says. “The layout for Toronto’s games is a little more widespread, so the dealing with transportation needs to be that much more of a focus for the organizers. Then there’s also the Athletes’ Village ... when I showed up to my first Pan-Am Games in Venezuela, we didn’t have windows in our rooms and the beds hadn’t been put together so it was all hands on deck. Games have advanced since 1983. It’s those elements Toronto 2015 will be looking at.”

There has also been some contentious issues finding the right venues. Since the committee rejected Hamilton’s $5-million bid to build a velodrome, Vaughan and Milton have thrown their hats in the ring.

“We only have a couple venues and sports left to settle — the velodrome being the principal one,” Troop says. “So 33 out of 36 sports isn’t a bad, batting average.”

However, former Canadian IOC member Paul Henderson criticizes organizers, pointing out that the first five years of the endeavour amount to a massive construction project and that the hype comes during the last few months.

“TO2015 has missed the first two years with no construction contracts signed and none will be finalized for months,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Disaster waiting to happen. Construction business is not like building a Ford car. Just in time delivery if the parts does not work. What makes a games financially successful is that the facilities are in place a year before, which is what Calgary (and) Vancouver have proved.”

The games are expected to bring in more than 10,000 athletes and 250,000 tourists to Toronto, the Greater Horseshoe area and the 905.

Andrew Weir of Tourism Toronto recently came back from the Pan-Am Games in Guatalajara saying there wasn’t a concentrated hub of activity in the Mexican effort — which parallels Toronto’s situation. However, he notes several key differences.

“The Athletes’ Village (in Toronto) is closer to downtown and some of the major events including the opening and closing ceremonies will be downtown,” he says. “It’s about the visitor experience — providing it to make it easy to get around. It’s about someone from Oshawa seeing an event in Hamilton or someone from Barrie to Toronto. While we want to draw all these Latin-American countries, this is a great opportunity of the 12 million in Ontario.”

Troop is convinced the community will embrace the 2015 Games wholeheartedly.

“It’s very rarely you welcome the world to your home. I know Toronto and Southern Ontario is going step up.”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Toronto residents will need permit to repave driveway

TORONTO - Get ready for a kick in the asphalt.
Repaving your driveway is about to cost an extra $129 no matter where you live in Toronto.
Councillors on the public works committee approved a laundry list of changes to the municipal code's streets and sidewalks section, including making it mandatory for Toronto residents to get a permit from the city before repaving their driveway. Right now, only residents in North York and the former city of Toronto have to buy a permit.
Councillor Mark Grimes tried unsuccessfully to get councillors on the committee to take out the change.
"I think that's ridiculous," Grimes said of the permit.
Allan Smithies, the city's project lead for the streets bylaw, said the change was one of many that ensures the street and sidewalk rules are the same right across the city.
"Under the proposed bylaw, every resident who wants to repave a driveway ... will have to get a permit from the city and the permit will cost $129.45," Smithies said.
Council still has to approve the change.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

City moves to move homeless

TORONTO - Councillor David Shiner sent a message to city staff Thursday to move the homeless off Toronto’s streets.

Shiner led the public works committee in voting to put a ban on camping, dwelling or lodging on city streets into a bylaw that streamlined the city’s Use of Streets and Sidewalks policy.

Councillors on the public works committee approved a laundry list of changes to the municipal code’s streets and sidewalks section.

Staff had originally recommended the ban be deleted based on public consultation.

But Shiner convinced the committee to put it back in with the provision that the ban would be subject to the application of the city’s existing Streets to Homes program.

Following the vote, Shiner said he “absolutely” wants to see the city deal with homelessness on its streets.

“I don’t believe people should be allowed to sleep on our streets,” Shiner told reporters following the meeting.

“We currently don’t permit them and that was going to be removed from the bylaw and I believe that we shouldn’t permit people to sleep on our streets and use them as their places of dwelling.”

Shiner said he hopes the change approved by the committee sends a message to city staff.

“It’s in the bylaw and it is something we want enforced,” Shiner said.

He added he wants the city to do everything it can to relocate someone to a proper home.

“But there comes a point in time when public streets are public streets and they aren’t for the right of one person to use as they want,” Shiner said.

Councillor Gord Perks accused Shiner of trying to look like he was doing something about a problem.

“Net result, things stay exactly as they are,” Perks said.

Perks fought to successfully to ensure the ban has city staff deal with homeless people through the Streets to Home program.

“Councillor Shiner attempted to pass a ‘scoop law’ that would, without reference to any kind of program to provide support to people who are homeless, simply give city staff the right to scoop them off the street,” he said.

Shiner disagreed with Perks’ characterization.

“It’s not a scoop law, it’s a proper thing to do in my opinion,” Shiner said.

City staff said despite Shiner’s change, “it is business as usual.”

Allan Smithies, the city’s project lead for the streets bylaw, said the change makes a statement “that it is not a good idea to camp, dwell or lodge on a city street.”

“We’re not going out there using the iron fist of the state to start scooping up homeless people, that was never the intent of the clause in any way shape or form,” Smithies said.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Old campaign poster sparks complaint


An old Rocco Rossi mayoral campaign poster has sparked a human rights complaint at Toronto City Hall.

The Rossi poster, which draws on the mob movie Goodfellas, hangs on the side of a fridge in a common lounge area in the City Hall press gallery where several media outlets, including the Toronto Sun, have offices.

Based on a complaint to the city’s human rights office, City of Toronto officials asked the press gallery to remove the poster this week, calling the poster “offensive.”

In an e-mail to press gallery president Dave Nickle, Irina Fofanova from the city’s real estate services outlined the complaint was based on the fact the poster was facing out into the City Hall hallway, “clearly visible to anyone who walks by.”

“The complainant indicates that the poster is degrading and derogatory to people of Italian descent,” Fofanova wrote. “Although Rossi used these poster(s) to promote himself, it doesn’t mean they can’t be offensive to people because of negative stereotypes based on place of origin or ethnic origin, two protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights code and the City’s Human Rights and Anti-harassment Policy, thereby creating a poisoned work environment. The City should not condone these posters in the workplace.”

Nickle called the poster a piece of election memorabilia.

“Having spoken to members of the gallery, we’re not convinced this is actually offensive,” Nickle said. “It’s a play on an old movie.”

For now, Nickle said the press gallery will try to keep the door closed.

He said he is still waiting for a better explanation from the city to justify the request to take the poster down.

“If I can be convinced and if this is, in fact, a racist and stereotypical image, we’ll obey the ruling of the city,” Nickle said.

City spokesman Wynna Brown said the real estate services division received a complaint about the poster from an individual who was offended by it and contacted the press gallery to “see if they would consider taking it down.”

Rossi, who dropped out of the mayor’s race before last fall’s election, unveiled the poster in September 2010 as part of a bid to revive his campaign.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Packages cause fright at costume shop

TORONTO - Toronto Police are searching every inch of a party store in Etobicoke where seven “suspicious devices” have been found in recent days.
Amazing Party and Costume, on Oxford St. near the Gardiner Expressway and Islington Ave., was forced to close its doors over the weekend after staff found two packages containing explosive material.
Officers from the forensic and organized crime units were called in to thoroughly search the premises.
“A total of seven suspicious devices have been found so far,” Const. Tony Vella said Tuesday night. “And we’re still investigating.”
He said it was too soon to say how many of the devices contained explosives or what the motivation might be behind the apparent attack on the store.
Local Toronto Councillor Mark Grimes released a statement earlier in the day about the ongoing situation in his ward.
“The Amazing Party Store has long been a landmark store in our community, where local residents have shopped for their holiday supplies,” Grimes stated.
He called the seven suspicious packages in the last five days “regrettable and shocking,” particularly since many children and parents pass through the store during Halloween.
“We recognize that many local businesses have been closed and suffered lost revenue due to this investigation, and thank them for their cooperation during this difficult time,” Grimes stated.
Fogh Marine is one of those businesses.
“It is awful. It has been brutal. Thank God it is the end of the season for us,” said Peter Epstien, manager of Fogh.
“I have never heard of anything like this. Who would want to bomb a Halloween store?”
Brian Bosanac has made three attempts to get to the marine store.
“I need parts for my boat so this has been really inconvenient,” Bosanac said.
Nick Gasparik works across the street from the party supply store at Local Equipment Supplies, which is in the entertainment business.
“It is kind of weird like you are waiting for something to happen. Now we can’t get our trucks out (because of the police tape),” Gasparik said.

Levy: Tough decisions needed for city not deferral

TORONTO - The city’s Chief Financial Officer Cam Weldon could not have been clearer at executive committee Tuesday.

He warned councillors they face “substantial fiscal challenges” not just with the operating budget -- but as far as funding the city’s 10-year capital plan is concerned.

He told the group the city’s debt is projected to reach $4.3-billion by 2014.

Weldon said they’ve already approached the council-approved debt ceiling that mandates principal and interest charges not to exceed 15% of the yearly tax levy.

He told the commmittee the capital plan includes no funding (debt or otherwise) for some $2.3-billion in TTC capital assets to which the previous council had made commitments -- a figure that has since been whittled down to $750-million.

Weldon made it clear they do not have even the $750-million (and can raise no further debt).

He also told the committee they need $1-billion in the first five years of the capital plan, which they don’t have.

He added that they don’t have money either for infrastructure desparately needed by the city’s long-term care homes and the Lawrence Heights Revitalization Plan -- or to deal “with emerging issues” such as repairs to the Gardiner Expy.

That’s why it is time to cash in the city’s 43% stake in Enwave and a 10% stake in Torotno Hydro, Weldon said.

That move, plus the sale of as yet-unnamed city real estate holdings, is expected to raise $600-million by 2014 and lower the cost on the operating budget to service the debt by $65-million a year.

“We don’t have an option,” he said. “We need to put the money into TTC infrastructure.”

If he said it once, Weldon -- who is not known for hyperbole -- repeated at least a half dozen times that they “need the money now.”

Otherwise, he said he’ll be asking council to make some “difficult decisions” as to what capital projects -- certain roads or community centres -- should be taken out of the city’s capital plan.

A phalanx of leftist obstructionists -- Adam Vaughan, Shelley Carroll, Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, Joe Mihevc and the ever insufferable Gord Perks -- plus their pathetic union/special interest hangers-on heard Weldon’s every word.

But he might as well been talking to a wall, or braying to the moon, for all the good it did -- with these leftists, a.k.a, The Protect Union Jobs at All Costs crowd.

Perks, badgering Weldon as if he was a hostile witness, claimed the city’s credit rating agencies haven’t downgraded the city (not yet) and that the debt ceiling won’t reach beyond 15% for at least three years.

Evidentally the David Miller clone has not been keeping up on what’s happening in Greece.

Former budget chief Shelley Carroll, who greatly helped get the city into this mess, served up one of her semi-coherent lectures full of those big words she uses to try to make herself sound intelligent -- in which she contended that the city was not at its “debt wall.”

She also wondered if the city’s finance officials had considered lengthening the debt horizon from 10 years to 30 as she did when she was budget chief -- as if this was a stroke of financial genius.

Even certain members of Mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle — most particularly Jaye Robinson and Michael Thompson — couldn’t bring themselves to make a hard decision about selling off a measley 10% of the city’s 100% ownership of Toronto Hydro.

Robinson, acting more like the city bureaucrat she once was than a politician entrusted with hard decisions, claimed she needed more time to “consult with residents” and determine whether the 10% sale was in their best interests.

“It’s a big one,” she said of the sale, as if someone asked her to cut off her right arm.

In the end they agreed on the Enwave sell-off but deferred consideration of Toronto Hydro until January, making Weldon’s job and that of budget chief Mike Del Grande’s all the more difficult.

“It seems to me deferral is the easy way out,” Del Grande told the committee.

No kidding.

Maybe the city needs to go bankrupt before they listen.