Waterfront Toronto board approves interim terms with Sidewalk Labs on Quayside

TORONTO — A major development on Toronto’s waterfront proposed by Sidewalk Labs will live on after Waterfront Toronto’s board unanimously approved several key terms for the project.

The two sides had set a deadline of Thursday to resolve key issues including the project’s scale, public transit commitments, developer selection, and privacy and data issues before going further in the evaluation process.

Google sister company Sidewalk Labs has agreed to reduce its planned scope of the project to the 4.8-hectare Quayside site, rather than as much as 77 hectares it was hoping would be built up as part of its vision.

It has also agreed to drop its proposal for an urban data trust among with other privacy terms, to allow a competitive bid process for development partners, and to not make transit a prerequisite for moving forward.

“We put forward what we felt were extremely important to protect the public interest,” Waterfront Toronto board chair Stephen Diamond said.

“At the end of the day, they basically conceded to the most important threshold issues that needed to get resolved to move forward.”

With approval of the terms by the board, Sidewalk’s proposal will move to a formal evaluation and further public consultations with a final vote on whether to approve the project to be made by March 31.

Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said in a statement that the company looked forward to moving forward on the next steps for the project.

“We are encouraged by today’s decision by the Waterfront Toronto board and are pleased to have reached alignment on critical issues with Waterfront Toronto.”

The realignment approved by Waterfront’s board means a significant scaling back on the project scope outlined in the master innovation and development plan released by Sidewalk in June, but the agreement does leave open the possibility of future expansion.

The revised terms also bring into question the economics of Sidewalk’s plan. The company’s plan in June had included development of a second site called Villiers West into commercial real estate, including a new Google Canadian headquarters, to make the economics work for the below market housing and other plans for the Quayside site.

Waterfront Toronto, which represents three levels of government with a mandate to revitalize the city’s waterfront, has set a value for the Quayside site of $590 million, but said a final price will be set after taking into account planned investments in affordable housing and environmental efficiencies.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that the deal Thursday protects the privacy rights of Ontarians and respects taxpayers while also showing an openness to business.

“The right balance has been struck between protecting the interests of the people of Ontario and encouraging investment, innovation and economic development.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory welcomed Waterfront Toronto’s decision to move forward on an “exciting proposal” for Quayside thanks to Sidewalk listening to concerns raised.

“We all know that we must develop our waterfront in the right way – that’s why we are moving through this process so carefully.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2019.

Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press