Give the gang putting Toronto's proposed bid for the 2015 World's Fair some credit for being straight about what the event could end up costing city taxpayers.
They had to know that an estimated $900 million deficit would be a surefire way to raise the hackles of some in attendance at a public consultation Monday (October 17) at the Metro Central YMCA.
"I wasn't expecting to see apocalyptic numbers like that," says one stunned man after seeing the figure flashed on the big screen. "That's not going to get the public's support."
He's also concerned that neither Queen's Park nor Ottawa has so far given any indication it'll help pay for the big show should city council decide at year's end to go ahead with a bid and the Bureau International des Expositions decide to give us the nod over places like Moscow, Buenos Aires, Casablanca, San Francisco and Istanbul.
"We're just trying to be up front with the numbers," responds Lance Alexander, project director for Toronto World Expo Corporation, a council-created subsidiary of the Toronto Economic Development Corporation and guardian of a bid consultation process that's still got six weeks of meetings to go before a recommendation is made to council. "It's important that when you do consultations like this, you do them in a very transparent, open and honest way," Alexander says later. "People are going to ask us anyway."
Besides, he argues, the shortfall doesn't look so big when one consider that the fair is supposed to pump $7 billion into the local economy.
As someone who watched the city's failed quest for the 2008 Summer Games evolve under the watchful eye of the local corporate elite, I find it rather refreshing to see 60 people exchanging ideas and filling out feedback forms indicating what kind of legacy they expect the expo to leave.
One woman says she isn't too hot on the idea but would support an expo if it does something to alleviate smog.
A guy from Richmond Hill who lived in Vancouver when it hosted the 1986 World's Fair says he'd go door-to-door promoting a Toronto Expo so it can do here what it did in BC.
But there is the bigger question of where the fair should be located. The waterfront is clearly the locale preferred by Mayor David Miller and the majority of councillors.
And there's already considerable support for making Toronto Island, home of the beleaguered City Centre Airport, the fair's focal point, with a transit connection to features to the east.
As luck would have it, businessman Victor Pappalardo, who runs Trans Capital Air and a couple of other aviation enterprises out of Hanger One at the Toronto Island airport, showed up to give offer piece about the expo proposal.
He's not keen on the possibility of a World's Fair grounds replacing the runways he and the likes of would-be airline magnate Robert Deluce tried to protect by threatening the city with colossal legal bills.
No surprise, then, that Pappalardo also has a question concerning Expo Corp's deficit projection. He wants to know if the cost of compensating "existing businesses" in the event of Toronto Islands becoming an amusement park was factored into the calculation.
When Alexander responds in the negative, Pappalardo advises everybody sitting at his table that they can tack a few hundred million dollars onto the deficit figure. This consultation is about to get interesting.