By Daniel Nedecki, IBI Group
ULI members congregated in downtown Toronto in the late afternoon on May 31 to take a shuttle ride out to the Woodbine Racetrack grounds. Toronto’s most prominent horse racing site is located north west of the city’s core, directly adjacent to Pearson International Airport. The intense congestion delaying our arrival was a master class on planning and the importance of public access. The ULI group arrived at the racetrack much later than anticipated however this time was in no way lost in translation. The discussion in the shuttle was lively with many attendees musing on the notion of proper planning, the city’s responsibility to provide access, and various other urban related topics.
Having survived the traffic while expertly using the time to network, the group was ready for a delightful spread of hors d’oeuvres on the balcony overlooking the active racetrack. With beverages in hand we were able to enjoy a few spirited races. Soon after, our host, Garth Essery, VP of Property Development for Woodbine Entertainment Group, came by to whisk us away for an official tour that began in a presentation room full of renderings and plans for the forthcoming Woodbine development.
The group received the 40-year development plan for the 684 acres of available land. The current plan seeks to establish a critical part of the city in an unassuming area of Toronto, building upon the fact that in addition to being a keynote equestrian venue, Woodbine is also home to the highest grossing electronic gaming destination in all of North America. These two factors combined generate a growing visitor count that is presently six million. However, this figure is anticipated to climb to 20 million as a result of the proposed developments.
These developments include walkable public spaces, restaurants, swaths of residences and employment lands, diverse and complementary entertainment facilities hosting top talent from around the world. Notably, the development also includes an initiative to partner with several local higher education providers such as Humber or Sheridan College to assist in growing their own facilities and learning spaces. Finally, the entire area is meant to be served by a major multimodal transit hub deeply connecting this relatively inaccessible part of the city with the rest of Toronto. Overall, the aim of the new Woodbine development is to spatially capture and further formalize the second largest employment zone in Canada (largely due to Pearson International Airport, second only to Toronto’s core).
With land pressurization only increasing in Canada’s largest metropolises, releasing such a large swath may have very positive outcomes for all of Canada if development is implemented properly. While a main driver of the property will be the races and electronic gaming, it was reassuring to hear that the proposed plan is varied, astute and clearly acknowledges the critical necessity of providing public access to the rest of the city.
The group was then led outside to where the recently raced horses were coming in from the track with their handlers to rest and recuperate in the stables and other equestrian facilities. Being up close in this moment with the majestic creatures was certainly a highlight. As the team meandered further though the stables and witnessed the grooming facilities for the race horses, the experience illuminated just how much these amazing animals have captured the hearts and minds throughout the generations, regardless of shifting technologies and socio-political landscapes. Woodbine Racetrack today has the capacity of 9,400 ticketed seats, with up to 40,000 capacity for the entire grounds. A 70,000 square foot patio and posh VIP tent are able to cater to individuals and parties of nearly any size.
However, as the aforementioned 40-year plan is implemented, the future Woodbine will grow into an integral component of the city in the heart of Canada itself. As an object of beauty and a mode a transportation, the horse represents what this development aspires to be, both in terms of capturing imaginations and in the awareness that any development is only as good as its ability to provide timely access to the rest of the city. May the future of the Woodbine Racetrack lands in the end live up to this admirable goal.