Woodbine Live! project folds
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Feb 06, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Woodbine Live! project folds

Woodbine Entertainment focused on casino to sustain company, save jobs

Etobicoke Guardian

The massive upscale entertainment complex billed as Woodbine Live! its developer forecast to create 9,000 new jobs is dead.

But it could move forward in the future said Woodbine Entertainment Group, stressing it is presently focused on a strategy to become the city’s casino operator in order to save 7,500 jobs across the company after the Ontario government cancelled its Slots at Racetrack program.

The program gave the Ontario horse industry 20 per cent of slot profits equivalent to $345 million a year.

Area Councillor Doug Ford also insisted another similar project could live yet.

The $1 billion Woodbine Live! development that was to be built at Woodbine Racetrack in north Etobicoke included an unprecedented tax break over two decades worth $120 million.

Baltimore-based The Cordish Companies’ designed six-million square foot development was to have included a full-service hotel, a live theatre venue, retail stores, outdoor markets, restaurants, theatres, a winter skating park and canal similar to Rockefeller Plaza in New York, and business office district.

Toronto council hailed the grand vision in 2008.

“It’s going to make Rexdale the new Rosedale of Toronto,” then-area councillor Rob Ford said.

The partnership between Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and The Cordish Companies has ended, Woodbine spokesperson Jane Holmes said Wednesday.

But Woodbine still intends to develop its vision for its land and is in talks with many potential partners, which could ultimately mean entering into a new partnership with Cordish, or with another developer, Holmes said.

“The government cancelled the Slots at Racetrack program. We’re focused on the long-term sustainability of our company,” Holmes said. “One key component of that is to have a casino at Woodbine. We already have the horseracing and the gaming.

“That sustainability is critical to (saving) our 7,500 jobs, 5,000 jobs just at Woodbine, which is 10 per cent of the employment base in Rexdale. The area has lost 26 per cent of its labour force in the past 10 years.”

Woodbine has 3,000 slot machines, has been recently refurbished and has an entire floor now dedicated to electronic gaming, she said.

“For all intents and purposes, we are a casino,” Holmes said. “We need the city to allow the willing (casino) host to be our site.”

Cordish spokesperson Ashley Miller concurred Wednesday the end of Woodbine Live! is related to Woodbine’s interest in a casino. An Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission proposal would allow a casino at Woodbine, instead of or in addition to, a casino in downtown Toronto.

“As a result of the 2012 OLG announcement regarding the privatization of gaming in Ontario, and in order to give Woodbine maximum flexibility to be responsive to this directive, the parties amicably agreed not to proceed with Woodbine Live! at this time,” Miller said in an email.

Cordish and Woodbine had not taken advantage of the tax break, the first of its kind offered by the city after Toronto’s economic development staff deemed Woodbine Live! to be “transformative”.

Local councillor Doug Ford, meanwhile, said he was confident redevelopment would go ahead — and under the terms and conditions of the original Tax Increment Equivalent Grant (TIEG), which expires in 2014.

“In my opinion there’s going to be developers lined up from here to Timbuktu — it’s the only large piece of property for development in the city,” he said. “There’s going to be a lineup.”

Ford said council will have to approve transferring the TIEG from The Cordish Companies to Woodbine, but he said that an improving world economy would make the project more viable. And Ford said that the best way to get the project going would be to install a casino at Woodbine.

“It’s going to happen with a casino up there,” said Ford. “What we don’t want to see is Mississauga or Markham getting one instead.”

However, were Woodbine to develop a full-fledged casino, that could prove problematic. In 2008, former councillor Kyle Rae moved an amendment to the conditions of the TIEG that no casino be built on the site.

~With files from David Nickle

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