THE city of Toronto and the popular computer game Sim City, which allows players to alter urban landscapes, now have something in common: The ability to put a golf course in the middle of a busy downtown area.
By the Spring of 1998, a huge patch of green is expected to cover 42 acres of land in Toronto where buildings and railway lines used to be. Toronto stock brokers will work within a few good wood shots of a real live golf course.
Janet Dey, executive vice president of Wittington Properties Ltd., a Toronto development firm with a minority interest in the property, says putting a course downtown is unusual. "The only other city with a downtown golf course is Chicago, and that too was built on old railway lands," she notes.
Vacant land put to use
As in other North American cities, the collapse of the commercial real estate market in downtown Toronto has left large blocks of vacant land. The lots were cleared for development in the booming 1980s.
That land will be utilized for a public, nine-hole golf course, including a driving range and a small clubhouse. It will have a commercial objective other than green fees.
"The idea is: Enhance the land so that eventually it can be developed. Right now it's just dirt and no one will build on it," Ms. Dey says. "We plan some residential development, condominiums, around the golf course."
The plan calls for the golf course to operate for 16 years, by which time the downtown core will have spread out to meet the edge of the greens and further residential or commercial development will replace the golf course. A yet unnamed golf firm will design, develop, and operate the course.
Politicians support the course
Local politicians like the idea. Right now, the old railway lands are an eyesore, though they have been partially covered with development already, such as Toronto's SkyDome stadium and the CN Tower, whose morning shadow will fall across the course.
"It's a win-win situation," says Toronto city councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski.
"It will provide for some green space. Right now it's just a desert, and they [the golf course] will pay some taxes."
The city of Toronto had to agree to the deal, for zoning and because it is one of three owners of the huge tract of land.
Owners of the prime piece of downtown land say it is still very valuable.
But if the land were left vacant until the real estate market turned around, they worry it could turn into "a permanent wasteland." The cost of developing the property into a golf course will range from $3 million to $6 million (Canadian; US $2.2 million to $4.4 million).