The push for toronto to host a world's fair in 2015 couldn't have come at a better time for Mayor David Miller.
It's been almost 18 months since the former councillor made waterfront redevelopment a centrepiece of his successful campaign.
But as the midway point in his three-year term approaches, Miller's made little progress despite the high expectations raised when council joined him to kill plans to build a controversial bridge to the Island Airport.
I mean, the transformation of the moribund port lands into the advertised masterpiece of urban planning was moving so damned slow that Miller chose to mark his first anniversary in the big suite by suggesting (that he be put in charge of the waterfront revitalization corp.( Ottawa and Queen's Park helped the city establish the corp back when Toronto had dreams of winning the 2008 Olympics.)
Alas, it seems the mayor has had about as much success convincing the province and the feds that he's the political champion Lake Ontario's shoreline needs as the city had in getting the International Olympic Committee to take its side over Beijing.
But with council poised to back a recommendation by its economic development committee that the city prepare a bid for Expo 2015, waterfront redevelopment may soon be back on the radar.
It certainly doesn't hurt that the folks hired to check out the practicality of Toronto getting into the world's fair game have identified the federally owned Island Airport property as an integral part of "one of the most extraordinary fair sites one has seen."
Consultant Steven Staples calls the 87 hectares of real estate a potential "icon for Toronto" comparable to the world-renowned Sydney Opera House. The site could be joined with more fairgrounds in the now derelict eastern port lands by a mass-transit line running through an underwater tunnel along the Toronto Harbour seawall.
The waterfront concept Staples presented to the economic development committee Monday got councillors so excited, they all but ignored an alternate proposal for Downsview Park in North York. And who could blame them?
"The waterfront site gives us a chance to build a legacy and perhaps find a way to build the kind of great cultural facilities we need on the waterfront to make it really succeed," Miller said. "It would make this waterfront the kind that Torontonians dream about but don't have at the moment." In other words, the kind of waterfront the mayor talked about so passionately when he was running for election in 2003.
But more importantly, the Expo 2015 bid could get the federal and provincial government back to the negotiating table they all but deserted four years ago when the city lost its bid for the 2008 Olympics. The feds' cooperation is especially critical, since the Island Airport belongs to them. Prime Minister Paul Martin has consistently told Miller that his government will respect council's decision on the bridge from Bathurst Quay to the money-losing landing strip. But there's been little input from Ottawa concerning its long-term plans for the site.
Says Staples: "The beauty of something like the world's fair is, it focuses the mind. You have a deadline that has to be met, and you can't fail, because if you fail in the eyes of the world then you've got a lot of egg on your face."
And egg is what the feds would have on their mugs if they claimed to have better plans for the airport land than allowing it to become the kind of jewel the 1986 world's fair turned Vancouver's seafront into. And no one should forget what Expo 67 did for Montreal.
Says Miller: "I think my views are influenced by the fact that the first things I did when I immigrated to Canada was go to Expo 67. That left a tremendous legacy because it's about city-building and nation-building. It's not just about sports."
Indeed, the report to committee prepared by Staples and his consortium of consultants wasted little time pointing out that a world's fair is "not an Olympics." The fair lasts six months instead of three weeks, and is driven by attendance rather than TV revenues. Its focus is culture instead of the commercial considerations of athletics.
"I think the potential for Toronto to win is huge," says Councillor Brian Ashton, the economic development committee chair. Toronto lost a bid for the 2000 world's fair to Hanover by a single vote, but the membership of the Bureau International des Expositions that will choose the 2015 host city has more than doubled since then. Representatives from the Arab and Muslim world, Asia, the Caribbean and South America are now part of the approximately 100-member group.
"The BIE is no longer Eurocentric," says Staples. "It's no longer the same game it was when we lost to Hanover."
At its meeting next week, council will decide whether to spend an estimated $2.1 million to proceed with further study of an Expo bid. A final decision will not be made until next January, when the bid will be submitted to the federal government for approval.
If it gets the go-ahead from Ottawa, the international lobbying will begin en route to the BIE's final decision in December 2007.
"I think the benefits that would flow to the community from a successful bid would be extraordinary," says Ashton of the estimated $5.6 billion in revenue the Expo would generate to offset the $645 million to $939 million taxpayers would be expected to spend staging the event.
"It would almost recession-proof the city," he adds. "A world's fair would allow [it] to come out of its cocoon."
In the meantime, the bid will at least give the appearance that something is happening on the waterfront issue.