If there wasn't a fixation on an direct, $20 airport rail link that served only suits and first-time tourists (and not the communities it would plow through), we could have a GO regional rail stop at Woodbine that would serve both an airport people mover and Woodbine (and local TTC, MT, BT, YRT services that terminate in that general area).
Maybe if the Ontario Jockey Club were smart, they'd push for this airport alternative that would not only serve their interests, but those of a lot of others.
^ How about a Sheppard extension...York-Jane/Finch-Rexdale-Humber-Woodbine-Airport-Kipling? Actually, an extended people mover to a Woodbine GO stop would be just fine.
Seems that the proposed new parking spots in the NW corner are to be residential uses instead. A few parking garages would be nice to prevent epic walks. I wonder what all this will do to Woodbine Centre?
woodbine is already a year round attraction. With the slot machines being a better draw then the actual racing.
Lets face it, its already a casino. Its just missing the tables, which I believe should be only a matter of time.
Woodbine Live deal galvanizes community
Residents hold out for tangible benefits from $350 million development
May 10, 2007
Something is growing in Rexdale.
Local Councillor Rob Ford sees it and salivates at the chance to turn his low-income community of new Canadians into a regional tourist destination.
Toronto's economic development department sees it and fantasizes about 9,000 permanent jobs and $150 million in annual property and sales taxes â€“ critical when some say the city is near bankruptcy.
And local residents see it and dream of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a better life for themselves and their children.
It is a $350-million expansion plan for Woodbine racetrack on the largest swath of undeveloped, individually owned land in Toronto.
And what happens with this proposal may change the way hardscrabble neighbourhoods across the GTA deal with developers.
As plans for the 81-hectare development in the city's northwest corner germinate at city hall, a coalition of 35 community groups known as CORD (Community Organizing for Responsible Development) has been busy in Rexdale, knocking on doors at social housing projects, handing out leaflets outside mosques, temples and churches and stopping people in the street to spread the word.
They are rallying the neighbourhood to seek a groundbreaking "community benefits" deal with the developer that would guarantee locals get decent-paying union jobs, employment training, affordable housing, better public transit, more child care and community space.
In an unprecedented show of unity and yearning, almost 500 Rexdale residents filled a local high school auditorium last week to talk about their dreams for the project.
One by one, people â€“ some in colourful headscarves, some in turbans and some in blue jeans â€“ took the stage at Thistletown Collegiate.
"I don't know when we've had such a large community gathering like this in Rexdale," said Robert Koil of the Rexdale Ethno-Cultural Seniors Association as he smiled at the multi-hued sea of faces.
"This crowd is really a representation of all the cultures in our community. It's a wonderful thing," said the 77-year-old Sri Lankan immigrant.
"We're always fighting with each other over who gets the money, who gets the programs. No one ever sees the bigger picture. Until now," said Cadidja Ali, a Somali immigrant and doctor who has worked and volunteered in Rexdale for 15 years.
"What I am seeing is unprecedented in this community."
CORD is copying the approach of marginalized neighbourhoods in cities like Los Angeles, New Haven, Conn., and Dublin, Ireland, where residents have negotiated special agreements with developers before projects have begun.
Developers struck the voluntary deals to win community support, ensure a local supply of trained workers and to help ensure residents had the financial means to patronize the new businesses.
The idea of seeking such a deal in Rexdale was planted last November during the developer's first public meeting about Woodbine Live, an upscale entertainment complex to complement horse racing and slots on Woodbine's 266-hectare property at the corner of Rexdale Blvd. and Hwy 27.
Phase 2 calls for a 2,500-home residential community to the north.
"It's going to put Rexdale on the map," said Ford, listing the development's high-end shops and amenities, including a skating rink similar to Rockefeller Plaza in New York.
"We're going to bring a little bit of Rosedale to Rexdale."
The proposal was submitted formally to city officials last summer by Woodbine Entertainment Group and its Baltimore-based development partner, the Cordish Company.
City officials expect the plan to go to Etobicoke community council for preliminary approval June 26.
With the prospect of 5,000 construction jobs and 9,000 permanent jobs in the proposed hotel, shops, restaurants, cinemas and concert space, residents at the meeting familiar with American and Irish community benefits deals saw an opportunity.
"Too often we see the promise of good jobs bypass the local community or turn into low-wage jobs with no benefits or future," said Janet Dassinger, a job training specialist with the UNITE HERE union, Local 75, which represents about 1,600 hotel and hospitality workers in Rexdale, including about 400 food servers at the Woodbine racetrack.
Residents also want more places to meet, hold community concerts and play sports, she said.
"We're not talking about (asking for) a major capital investment, we're talking about nice, cheerful meeting space," she said.
"And if (the developer) is going to be building all that infrastructure anyway, why wouldn't they do that?"
The next step â€“ and it's a key one â€“ is keeping CORD's nascent coalition together.
"We all have individual, family and community expectations for this development," Zeleda Davis, a hotel housekeeper who has raised six children in Rexdale over the past 17 years, told the rally at Thistletown Collegiate.
"But we know we must be united as a community if we are going to realize those dreams," she added.
In the city's economic development and planning departments, staff are keen to negotiate the usual community benefits that are spelled out in the Planning Act and Toronto's Official Plan â€“ provisions for parks, public art, open space and affordable housing.
But there's some concern the community's drive to get its own agreement with the developer â€“ outside the city's regular process â€“ could jeopardize the project.
"We have to get it approved first," Ford warned.
"They are a private company. I can ask. I can request. I can have meetings with them.
"But you can't start forcing them because they'll just leave. And I don't want that to happen."
In an email to the Toronto Star last week, developer Blake Cordish said Woodbine Live would be an "important catalyst" for revitalizing Rexdale.
But he was silent on the community's attempts to strike a formal deal with the partnership.
Public benefits will be "secured via the normal course of business through negotiations with the city," Cordish wrote from the company's head office in Baltimore, adding that those negotiations would be guided by the provincial Planning Act.
The residents, who are hoping to meet soon with the developer, remain undaunted.
"We're prepared to do what it takes to get this agreement," Dassinger said. "We're determined.
"And we believe we can help make this development even more successful for everyone."
Melody Brown, head of a city team working to help area residents work with each other, believes whatever takes root in Rexdale as a result of the Woodbine expansion plan will be a victory.
"Even if nothing happens in the end with this agreement, the exercise will be beneficial to residents," she said.
"Most definitely this is the beginning of a different kind of community development and planning for the city."
If the community can rally for a project like this, then they should join Weston and rally for a real transit line on the Weston Sub. It would be perfect for bringing in the people to this entertainment centre, and provide better transit to Rexdale.