The City of Toronto is taking the next steps to bring its ambitious Rail Deck Park plan to life: by looking to secure the air rights along the rail corridor.
A new report from city staff that's being presented to Toronto's executive committee next week recommends continuing negotiations to acquire the air rights for the first 3 acres (1.2 hectares) of the park, but also to initiate expropriation of phase 1 if negotiations remain unsuccessful, according to city councillor Joe Cressy, Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York.
Mayor John Tory, who backs the report, says this is an important step to make progress on the downtown park.
Aerial image of downtown Toronto showing proposed placement of Rail Deck Park over the rail corridor with Spadina Avenue cutting through the park/ City of Toronto
"Moving forward on acquiring this air space brings us closer to getting Rail Deck Park underway. Focusing on the eastern portion of the site would maximize the impact of the private sector public realm investment planned next door and gives the city more park space sooner," said Tory.
According to the City of Toronto, negotiations with the owners to acquire air space in the Rail Deck Park project area at fair market value have been ongoing since 2018 and have had no success to date.
Cressy says the report takes the critical next step in securing the first phase of Rail Deck Park, the proposed 20-acre green space constructed above the railway tracks south of Front Street between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.
The city says this space is the last remaining site suitable for a large park to support growth in the downtown core and serve as a city-wide asset.
"City staff are recommending continuing negotiations to acquire the air rights for the first 3 acres of Rail Deck Park, but also to initiate expropriation of this first phase – 3 acres above the Union Station Rail Corridor, between Spadina Avenue and Blue Jays Way – if negotiations remain unsuccessful," said Cressy in a statement.
"Combined with a private parkland proposal to the immediate east and the existing city-owned Northern Linear Park to the South, this acquisition of phase 1 of Rail Deck Park could mean 7 acres of new parkland above the rail corridor with construction starting as early as 2022."
"Simply put, this Rail Deck Park approach means more parkland, faster," said Cressy.
For years, city councillors have said how important this project is to Toronto, as the city is always in need of more public green spaces to serve the quickly growing population, especially in the downtown core.
When completed, the park would serve as a backyard for residents and visitors alike, similar to Chicago's Millenium Park and New York City's High Line.
"In the next 25 years, the population of downtown is expected to double to 500,000 people. The number of daily downtown employees is also expected to double to nearly 900,000 people. Not to mention the millions of annual visitors to downtown Toronto and our adjacent destinations like the Rogers Centre, Aquarium, and central waterfront," said Cressy.
"Meanwhile downtown Toronto already has lowest level of parkland in the entire city. For residents, for workers, and for visitors from across the country and around the world, Rail Deck Park will be transformational."
Conceptual cross-section of Rail Deck Park/City of Toronto
Together with the city's existing Northern Linear Park property, the acquisition of the air space would give council the opportunity to pursue the development of a new park up to 1.6 hectares (four acres) of the proposed park.
This portion of Rail Deck Park would be adjacent to the development proposal for "Union Park" from Oxford Properties Group Inc. The Union Park proposal, which is located to the east of Blue Jays Way, will result in a park of about 1.2 hectares (three acres), including 0.8 hectares (two acres) to be built above the rail corridor.
The eastern portion of Rail Deck Park and the adjacent Union Park proposal would transform under-utilized air space into a combined park area of approximately 2.8 hectares (seven acres), according to the city.
"Great cities invest in their future. Rail Deck Park is bold, ambitious, & necessary if we aspire to build a 21st Century city. With this proposed next step, we can take one big step closer to getting it built," said Cressy.