A painting of a park now adorns the hoarding that surrounds the vacant lot at 11 Wellesley, but time is running out to bring a real life green space to the dense neighbourhood off of Yonge Street.
At a press conference Thursday outside the contested property, area councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam warned residents who want a public park built on the site that they are now "racing against the clock."
The province, which owns the land, will start accepting offers for the property on August 15, and Wong-Tam predicts that condo developers vying for the prime piece of real estate could submit bids as high as $50 million. The Liberal government, which has committed to selling off surplus property to cut Ontario's deficit, would be hard-pressed to turn down such a sum.
"Once they see those dollar signs, it's going to be a lot harder for us to get this land," Wong-Tam said.
She's asked the province to put the sale off at least until October, when city staff are expected to come forward with a proposal for a park. So far however, while she's won the backing of local Liberal MPP Glen Murray, she's received no official response from the government.
"They're not coming to table with the city," she said. "We're asking for them to please work with us. We will do anything it takes to put together a winning formula, a winning condition, for the province and the city."
The tower-dense neighbourhood west of Yonge and south of Bloor has seen a 20 per cent population increase since 2006. Some residents say more public space is needed to accommodate the growth, and the Wellesley site that has been vacant for 20 years is a perfect spot.
They were given a glimmer of hope last month, when city council authorized municipal staff to enter into negotiations with the province to take over the property. But council's decision does not appear to have swayed Queen's Park, which remains committed to auctioning off the 0.8-hectare site.
"This property is being sold in a fair, open and transparent process," wrote David Salter, press secretary for minister of infrastructure Bob Chiarelli, in an email. "If the City of Toronto wants to buy the property, they can certainly do so."
But Wong-Tam says the city can't afford to outbid developers who build for profit. She wants the province to lease the property to the city for a nominal fee.
Pro-park residents symbolically left outdoor-themed gifts for Dalton McGuinty outside the hoarding on Thursday, including a picnic basket, badminton rackets, and a ping pong set, and called for the premier to rethink his plans.
"This site represents the only opportunity to provide the densest urban centre in Canada with a dynamic and functional community park," Norm Waite of the Bay Cloverhill Community Association told the crowd of roughly two dozen. "Premier McGuinty, help us make our dream a reality."
Tyler Greenleaf, who lives near the Wellesley site, said he wants a park built so he his one-year-old son has a place to play outdoors.
"People need a place to go, children need a place to go," he said. "This is the last large space in downtown Toronto. [It's] a huge opportunity for the city to create a legacy for all Torontonians."