Downsview airfield operations to end by mid-2024 as redevelopment project ramps up

The company leading the massive redevelopment of the Downsview airport lands is preparing to shut down the airfield in mid-2024 as work to transform the 520-acre site over 30 years ramps up. Nick Westoll reports.

As planning for a massive redevelopment of the Downsview airport lands continues, the company behind the project is aiming to shut down the airfield before the middle of 2024.

The news comes as Bombardier prepares to move its operations to Toronto Pearson International Airport in the months ahead.

CityNews recently toured the iconic Downsview airport lands as Northcrest Developments prepares to open a site office at the historic location.

“We’re building a city within a city and that’s a big responsibility,” Aytakin Mohammadi, the company’s director of impact and engagement, said.

“This project is the largest of its kind in North America.”

He said the proposed redevelopment will rely on innovation, using more timber in building the structures, and will be a net-zero community

“We want to be a bit more creative in terms of our building design,” Mohammadi said.

The old airport used to be the home of De Havilland. There were various other companies too. However, perhaps the biggest legacy is how the Royal Canadian Air Force used it.

The use of the land along with nearby properties has evolved in recent decades. The military base housing is now gone, making way for new homes. There are several other commercial (particularly sports), institutional and non-profit tenants across the property. It is home to Toronto FC’s training facility.

The property has also been used for major concerts, such as the 2003 concert coming out of SARS. The Rolling Stones were among the major performers who visited.

Northcrest bought the land from Bombardier in 2018 and it’s co-managing the site with the Canada Lands Corporation.

Mohammadi said the current vision calls for 10 distinct districts. He estimated there will be around 45,000 units with 100,000 new residents. Construction on the various districts will happen in phases until 2050.

CityNews asked Mohammadi about the history of the Downsview airport lands, and how it could be protected.

“We’re going to take innovative ways to do that, whether it means using the runway and reimagining that as a way to connect all of these new communities… maintaining the hangars and retrofitting them,” he said.

After three years of consultations, Mohammadi said job creation and traffic have been major points of feedback.

Mohammadi said the company is looking at new pedestrian and vehicular arteries, noting there could be an extension of Dufferin Street. He said improving access connections to three nearby subway stations will be key. GO Transit, which has a train station at the north end of the property, is set to see an expansion of service too.

Kayode Brown, the founder of Just BGraphic Youth Arts Project, an arts initiative that serves youth at schools in the area, sits on an advisory committee for the Downsview property’s future. His group’s artwork has been adorning fencelines at the property.

“While change is necessary, and growth is part of society, we want to make sure that we hold on to our culture and our history. We want to make sure that not everything becomes this big corporation,” he said.

“My hope is that we can find a way to make this space sustainable, equitable and accessible. My hope is that the people that have laid the foundation in this community still feel like they have home on this new property.”

As for what’s next, a secondary planning process will carry on into 2024. Shovels for the first district are set to be in the ground in 2026.

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