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MGM & Cadillac Fairview outline casino plan for CNE grounds

MGM Resorts and its partner Cadillac Fairview outlined their plan for a casino complex on the CNE grounds on Wednesday that includes a hotel, large shopping centre and a permanent Cirque du Soleil theatre.

The vision would also include a 1,200-room hotel modelled after the Aria hotel in Las Vegas; up to a million square feet of retail space; about 10,000 underground parking spaces; an additional floor on the Direct Energy Centre for 400,000 square feet of convention space; additional seating capacity for BMO Field; and a 900-seat theatre for a Cirque du Soleil show.

The casino would represent about eight per cent of the total complex area, the companies said during their media-only presentation at the Sheraton Centre hotel on Queen Street West.

The companies promised that no existing buildings on the CNE grounds would be displaced as part of the plan that would see the CNE midway moved to the south side of Lake Shore Boulevard.

Coun. Mike Layton, a vocal opponent of a potential Toronto casino, insisted Wednesday the CNE grounds are already “well-used.”

“They’re going to show us a lot of pretty pictures,” he said outside the presentation room, highlighting concerns he’s heard from residents about potential addiction, safety and traffic congestion problems.

He said a casino on the Exhibition grounds would “paralyze” the Gardiner Expressway, Lake Shore Boulevard and Strachan Avenue.

The companies emphasized their plans to increase connectivity between the CNE grounds, Ontario Place and Liberty Village through enhanced transit, bridges and access via underground parking.

Under the proposal, the TTC streetcar loop on the Exhibition grounds would be extended to connect with Dufferin Street. There would also be increased frequency of train stops at the Exhibition GO station.

Ramps would also be added to Lake Shore, providing access to underground parking, so drivers don’t have to cross traffic to access the CNE or Ontario Place. An underground path connecting the Exhibition grounds to Liberty Village would also be enhanced.

MGM and Cadillac Fairview say the proposed project would take three years to build and provide 5,000 construction jobs over that period.

MGM Resorts senior vice-president of public affairs, Alan Feldman, couldn’t provide an answer when asked what would happen to the annual Canadian National Exhibition during the construction phase.

“That’s a very good question,” he said.

The complex would provide about 10,000 mostly union jobs paying $60,000 a year, on average, MGM says.

Layton disputed those figures and said that salary estimate was too high.

Las Vegas Sands and Caesars Entertainment have also expressed interest in building a casino complex in Toronto. Both companies want to build at the Metro Convention Centre.

The city held public consultations on a proposed casino in January and the city manager is expected to report back on that feedback this month. Council is expected to debate the issue in May.

Mayor Rob Ford has said he approves of a casino and said he’d like to see one built in the Port Lands or at Exhibition Place.

“I don’t know how people can refuse $150 million or $200 million of revenue and 10,000 good-paying jobs. I don’t see how they can say no to that,” he said last month.
“I just wouldn’t want to lose it to Vaughan or Mississauga.”

Toronto’s Board of Health last month reaffirmed its position against building a casino in Toronto.

A Toronto casino was pitched last year as part of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s (OLG) modernization plan.