Pickering City Centre project scraps land swap; moves forward without Arts Centre

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Published March 28, 2023 at 8:54 am

Pickering’s dream of building a performing arts centre in the heart of downtown is not quite dead yet, but the dream will likely be in the distant future after City Council approved the next phase in the still un-realized City Centre project.

The City has pursued the vision of the mixed use city Centre Project for six years now, with the pandemic and subsequent rising costs due to supply chain issues forcing the City to put the whole dream to bed last month until they could get the financing under control.

Pickering Regional Councillor Maurice Brenner says there is still a long way to go on getting a shovel in the ground – the earliest for that would be late 2024/early 2025 – but the City has agreed on a preferred option, with consultants KPMG tasked with bringing a detailed analysis report back to Council in the last quarter of this year.

There’s no performing arts centre on the table, but the library, seniors and youth centre and park is still there, along with some high rise condos as well.

And instead of a land swap, the project is expected to be realized on lands already owned by the City.

“I’s a good vision and we’re not making deals with developers on the property,” Brenner said. “It’s fiscally responsible.”

The arts centre portion can still be addressed in future years, he added.

Discussions on a true ‘city centre’ in Pickering go back to 2017, with planning staff working with Pickering Town Centre owners Ontario Pension Board Realty (OPB Realty) by late 2018 on a deal that would see the project built on lands owned by the City on the south side of The Esplanade and lands owned by OPB Realty on the east side of the mall.

Enter the pandemic, which delayed work for 18 months or so and when work was re-started the $127 million project had ballooned to the point where Council had to set a ceiling of $207 million. Another 18 months later the project was once again put on hold with preliminary project costs reaching $236 million due to rising construction costs associated with a “COVID and post-COVID environment. “

Financing for the city’s portion of the project was supposed to funded by hosting revenue from the Pickering Casino Resort but the pandemic delayed that project as well, with the casino finally opening in July of 2021 and expected revenues not streaming in until about a year later.

By this time expenses on the project had skyrocketed to more than $330 million so Council shelved the entire deal until they could get a better handle on the financing.

City staff, along with KPMG and Hariri Pontarini Architects, recommended Option D among three options presented to Council  moving forward, with elected officials agreeing by a 6-1 margin. Option D included connecting Esplanade Park by relocating Esplanade South to the south and introducing the library and seniors and youth Centre adjacent to the park, creating a view from Glenanna Road, with all facilities located on City-owned land.

Pickering Chief Administrative Officer Mariaa Carpino said ‘D’ is recommended because  it “delivers on the City Centre vision for three municipally owned and operated facilities with a phased-in construction model, and is supported by a public space/square that allows for Esplanade Park and a new park west of Glenanna Road to be animated year round.”

Councillor David Pickles, a supporter of Option C, cast the only dissenting vote. Option C would still involve a land swap, with the City selling its southern block of lands to pay for the project.

Brenner, however, said the cost of that option would be “prohibitive” and it would also “destroy” the original city centre vision.

“It’s all tied together now,” Brenner said, adding that a park and outdoor skating components can be included and the City “still has the ability” to add a public/private partnership to the project in the future.

No price tag has been attached to the revised project yet but will be part of KPMG’s report due before the end of the year.

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