Province’s waterfront Hearn site subject of sales talks
A representative for Ontario Power Generation confirmed talks are underway for a possible sale of the site.
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Provincially owned Ontario Power Generation is in talks to potentially sell the hulking, long-decommissioned Hearn Generating Station on Toronto’s east waterfront, city councillors were shocked to hear Thursday.
“I’m gobsmacked,” Councillor Paula Fletcher said after her intense questioning of two OPG representatives appearing before a city committee confirmed negotiations to sell the landmark publicly owned waterfront site to private owners.
“It’s very disturbing because the province should be stewards for that land, for when the spectacular redevelopment of our waterfront moves eastward.
“It’s a unique building in the world to have on your waterfront — it’s big, it’s beautiful, there could be a fantastic repurposing like we have seen of similar buildings in New York City and other cities.”
Ray Davies, OPG’s real estate strategy manager, and Mary Flynn-Guglietti, a McMillan LLP lawyer representing OPG, appeared before the planning and growth committee considering future plans for the Port Lands.
The OPG representatives repeated past objections to city redevelopment plans, saying new roadways, intersections and public space impinge on OPG’s Portlands Energy Centre at 470 Unwin Ave. and the neighbouring Hearn, which is leased to Studios of America for film production.
Fletcher asked if there is any truth to talk that OPG is in talks with Studios of America to sell the 16-hectare (40-acre) Lake Ontario site.
“I’m not aware of that,” Davies said, adding the Hearn is not among his files but he knew that, under its long-term lease, Studios of America would have first crack at buying the site if it is sold.
Davies said he believes the land title is in the name of OPG, a “private corporation,” but conceded OPG is wholly owned by the Ontario government and “we wouldn’t make a decision without their blessing.”
Fletcher continued pushing. “Are you telling me categorically that it is not up for sale, that the Ontario government is not planning, your shareholder, is not planning to sell that? ... Has that been offered up, as many people have heard, as the province is now looking to sell the Hearn and it’s being offered first?”
Flynn-Guglietti jumped in. “I believe there has been discussions in that regard,” she said. Recently?, Fletcher asked. “Yes,” Flynn-Guglietti said.
Studios of America, owned by partners including company president Paul Vaughan and prominent real estate developer Mario Cortellucci, has a lease on the massive building, decommissioned as a power plant in 1983, that runs from 2002 to 2041 if all extensions are exercised.
Asked in a phone interview Thursday if he is aware of sale discussions, Vaughan said he was but could not talk about it.
“We have to defer to others to make that decision, I can’t do it on my own. What can I say?,” Vaughan said.
“I have to defer to (OPG) because I’m under a gag order, I really can’t say anything. You should be talking to OPG. They are the land owners, obviously.”
Neither OPG nor Cortellucci have yet responded to the Star’s request for comment.
In June, the province announced it was putting up for sale the old Lakeview generating station site on Mississauga’s waterfront. The developer or consortium that buys that property will have to remediate the industrial lands before transforming the area into a mixed-use community expected to house up to 20,000 residents and 9,000 jobs.
Many proposals for the Hearn have been floated over the years, including ice rinks, other sports facilities and demolition. It is used for specialized film studio work and, in recent years, has hosted events including the Luminato Festival. Proximity to the Portlands Energy Centre, a 550-megawatt natural gas electrical generating station, makes it unsuitable for housing.
Fletcher said the OPG representatives’ portrayal of the land ownership reminded her of 2011 when a city agency leasing out Port Lands property launched, with the blessing of then-councillor Doug Ford and then-mayor Rob Ford, a doomed redevelopment plan including a giant Ferris wheel and megamall.
“The public owns that land, not OPG, and I’m concerned OPG doesn’t see their job is to introduce this land into waterfront planning at some point the same way Toronto’s lands will be staged and introduced, even though we have leases on them,” she said.
The Ontario government is a partner, along with the city and federal government, in Waterfront Toronto, the agency overseeing waterfront redevelopment.
Mira Shenker, Waterfront Toronto’s communications manager for the Port Lands, said in an interview: “We’ve known that Studios of America, which has a long-term lease, has been in discussions with OPG but we are not privy to those. We hadn’t heard about a sale.
“Whether we support (a sale) or not depends on the longer-term vision of the Port Lands, what the proposed re-use is. We know there is an interest from the community in some creative adaptive reuse of the Hearn.”
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