Exhibition Place: What Toronto should do

Exhibition Place: Toronto's shamelessly wasted waterfront jewel.

A look behind the 2017 City of Toronto budget numbers at a specific division or agency that is often overlooked and under-considered…  Today: Exhibition Place

Introduction

Toronto’s Exhibition Place is a 192 acre jewel of prime waterfront parkland in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core. It’s home to the 18-day annual Canadian National Exhibition, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, BMO Field (home to the Toronto Argonauts and Toronto FC), Ricoh Coliseum (home to the Toronto Marlies), MUZIK Night Club, Liberty Grand and a number of week-long consumer shows.

But, most days of the year, it's 192 acres of empty asphalt parking lot.

The City of Toronto owns the land and buildings which are worth $819 million.  A city-owned agency, the Board of Governors of Exhibition Place, manages the property. The Board aims to break-even on an operating basis – despite the fact, they were instructed by City Council in 2011 to develop a new business plan that would generate a bigger return for the city.  Currently, Exhibition Place breaks-even – generating zero dollars for the city's budget.

Making matters worse, Toronto taxpayers are on the hook for all capital expenses – ongoing maintenance, improvements and an $86 million backlog of repairs.  The city will borrow $7.9 million to pay for capital expenses in 2017.  None of the earnings of Exhibition Place will go to repaying this debt – all principal repayment and debt servicing costs will be paid by Toronto property taxpayers.

2017 Budget Quick Facts

  • 192 acres. Book Value of Assets $819.3MM
  • $37.4MM in revenues – from tenant rents, shows, sales, etc.
  • $37.2MM in expenses
  • $162,000 “surplus” of revenue over expenses.
  • These earnings equate to 0.02% Return on Assets of $819MM.
  • By comparison, an average commercial property in Toronto can be expected to generate a comparable return on invested capital of between 5 to 9%.
  • Capital Expenses for 2017: $7.9MM  – funded entirely by Debt, to be repaid through Property Tax.
  • 10 year Capital Expense Plan: $97.3MM  – from Debt, repaid by Property Tax. Includes:
    • $86.4MM = State of Good Repair Backlog (89% of CAPEX budget)
    • $1MM for a bridge between Hotel X & Allstream Ctr.
    • $500K to relocate Greek God statues from Muzik.
    • $400K for road/sidewalk repair.
  • Employees
  • 359 Full-time Equivalents.
  • 11 Sr Mgrs | 60 Mgrs | 49 Exempt Clerical/Prof | 239 Union
  • $31.5MM for salary & benefits = $79,727 on average per employee.

References

What the City Should Do

City taxpayers own this prime waterfront property in the heart of downtown Toronto and they're not getting enough value from it. It's an empty wasteland most days – truly busy only 18 days each year. For this, taxpayers shell out almost $10 million every year just to keep the buildings from falling down. And, that's not enough. The buildings, many of them designated heritage buildings, are in terrible repair and getting worse. The capital budget is not able to flow money fast enough to keep them in good shape.

There is so much potential in this property that it's absolutely shameful to see it wasted as it is. Here's what the city should do:

  1. Approach the provincial government, which owns the adjacent Ontario Place and agree to consolidate the two properties and develop them together under common management with a single vision. The province has, in the past, expressed an interest in doing this. They don't want to be in the amusement park business.
  2. Disband the Board of Governors and hire a management/development company to manage/develop the joint properties.  Charge them to do so, with a mandate to maximize earnings to be shared with the city – with a view to ultimately, at least, pay for the property's ongoing capital expenses.
  3. Prohibit residential development on Exhibition Place and Ontario Place.
  4. Expand underground parking – or build parkades along the North edge of the property backing on the Gardiner Expressway and providing an additional sound barrier between the park and Liberty Village residential area.
  5. Aggressively seek to develop more entertainment options on the site: restaurants, pubs, theatres, live performance venues, night clubs, cinemas, sports and recreation facilities, outdoor active spaces, etc.
  6. Expand the number of hotels on site.
  7. Expand the Conference Centre into a top-tier international conference and convention destination facility.
  8. Expand the TTC street car service by elevating the tracks and extending them south, running overhead through Exhibition Place and Ontario Place then East to join up with the Waterfront transit plan.
  9. Create and enjoy a four-season day/night entertainment destination for Toronto.