Some provincial ministers are quietly working toward creating a large urban park on the provincially owned lands at 11 Wellesley St W, a two-acre site that stretches to Breadalbane St between Yonge and Bay streets.
The vacant area has languished behind construction hording for more than a decade but was once home to a beloved city skate park. The province took over the site in the 1980s in order to build a magnificent opera building, but that project was cancelled.
Parcels of the land were later sold to developers who built skyscrapers on its Bay St side. The remaining land is now co-owned by the province and Morguard, who have been mired in a legal dispute over further development.
Toronto Centre MPP and cabinet minister Glen Murray says he’s successfully lobbied cabinet to remove the site from the province’s for-sale list, but there remains considerable skepticism about turning the site – which he estimates could be worth $150 million – into a public park.
“The battle royale is going on in my own government on 11 Wellesley,” Murray told a Church-Wellesley Community Planning Meeting he cohosted with Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam on May 7.
“Mostly the battle is getting the development community engaged to step back,” Murray says. “Part of the challenge is how to disengage the partnership with Morguard, and part of that’s with reasonable agreements elsewhere.”
Murray later said that could involve the city or province allowing Morguard to develop properties elsewhere.
“It’ll take generosity on all sides to make it work,” he says.
But Wong-Tam says any compromise can’t involve the city being forced to pay for the land.
“Asking us to pay for it is ridiculous. All we want is a little park,” Wong-Tam says. “We have the money to design, build and maintain the park if the province will unlock that land.”
Wong-Tam publicly advocated for residents to force the issue by occupying the park themselves.
“If residents want to take charge, I say take down that fence,” she says. “For 10 years we’ve lived with that hording. For 10 years we could’ve had a park.”
Support for turning the site into a park is strong among community groups, Murray said. The plan has been endorsed by several neighbourhoood associations, including Church-Wellesley, Bay-Cloverhill and Greater Yorkville.
Murray says residents who want the site turned into a park should email him a testimonial that he can show to his cabinet colleagues. He says some other cabinet ministers, including Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne and Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli have expressed support for turning the land into a park.
Murray noted that the province is contributing to new park space along Toronto’s waterfront and in the newly developing West Don Lands neighbourhood, which he says will be 25 percent green space. He also noted that the province owns lands at Dundas and Jarvis streets.
Wong-Tam told attendees at the meeting that funding for renovations to Cawthra Park next to The 519 has been raised from $500,000 to $1 million, which will include improvements to the entrances, the AIDS memorial, the dog run and more pavement over the current grassy area.