$1 billion garage for $50 million casino host fee?

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By Anthony Mancusa –

With a council vote on the controversial Downtown casino proposal expected in the next few months, the question faced by the public is an incredibly simple one, says Councillor Adam Vaughan.
“The only thing in front of us is one question and one question only: Do you want a casino? Yes or no?” said Vaughan at a Jan. 31 informational meeting set up by the TOPoli collective in front of a divided crowd of about 80 people. “We have no way of binding the province, no way of ensuring a host fee. None of the numbers we’re dealing with are real.”
Weeks of city-wide public consultation meetings were held in January. The council vote is planned for April.
The city—and its elected officials—remain undecided on the issue.
At the TOPoli meeting, Vaughan and architect Ken Greenberg presented their cases against a casino, explaining that should a sizable casino proposed be sited Downtown it would require the construction of 11,000 parking spaces at a cost of $1 billion.
“This city’s problems are so insignificant that we can build a parking garage for $1 billion to make sure we get our hosting fee of $50 million?” questioned Vaughan.
In addition, Vaughan argued, the already congested Gardiner would be forced to funnel in cars for the spaces, clogging the core and using up resources.
“They always try to get on high profile sites, ideally on public land, near waterfront, which is ironic, because there is nothing about the operation of a casino that has to do with the outside world,” explained Greenberg.
“The size of the casino is not the casinos we know in other cities,” added Greenberg. “It’s not only a casino, it also comes married to a million-square-foot mall and all the restaurants and everything else you can connect with it so you never have to go outside, contributing to the sense of isolation.”
Those in favour of a casino had one, unified reason: good-paying union jobs. Lis Pimentel, president of UNITE HERE, a group representing hospitality and food service workers across Canada, was one of many cautiously optimistic. To earn her support, and the endorsement of others on her side of the issue, the casino would have to be constructed and operated by union workers, agree to a community benefits program, and need to generate revenue to the city.
Vaughan countered the notion that a casino would bring jobs. “There is a trend that is emerging in the casino industry, and that’s to cap people’s ability to work past four to six years. They are trying to repress the benefits because the industry is failing,” he concluded.
Other residents expressed willingness to compromise, allowing a casino by the racetracks at Woodbine.
Earlier in the day, two more contenders for the lucrative construction contract threw their hats into the ring:
Cadillac Fairview Corp.  and MGM Resorts International announced they would go in 50-50 to build a casino somewhere in the city.