Published On: Fri, Jan 12th, 2018

Bombardier considers move away from Downsview

Bombardier Inc. says it is considering the sale of a parcel of land adjacent to Downsview Park that houses an aircraft assembly plant employing 3,500 workers. But a city councillor is warning of a fight over any move that she says would violate a federal promise.

Bombardier spokesperson Olivier Marcil said Friday that the Montreal based aerospace giant is “exploring its options” with potential buyers for its 375-acre site that includes an airport runway and a production facility for jets and the turboprop Q400.

Marcil said some of the production could potentially be moved to Pearson International Airport, although a decision on if and where to relocate has not been made.

Bombardier has not received a firm offer for the property but has been in discussions, he said, adding that the company has reached out to stakeholders including the city to inform them of its plans.

The consideration is part of Bombardier’s five-year turnaround strategy that involves an examination of assets around the world, with the Downsview site of significant value.

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The company’s aerospace division is a separate arm of the same company that has repeatedly missed delivery deadlines on Toronto’s new streetcars.

Downsview, north of the downtown core is a rapidly developing area that offers highway access and proximity to the city’s expanding rapid transit network.

Marcil also said the industrial site could ultimately be rezoned for mixed use including residential, creating a “win-win” for all stakeholders.

Mayor John Tory’s office is aware of Bombardier’s plans to shift production away from Downsview, said a spokesperson. “We have been in discussions with the provincial and federal governments as to how to protect — and even grow — jobs at Downsview and protect public investments made there over the years,” Don Peat said in an email.

But in an undated letter sent to Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare, Councillor Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre) said the 35-acre parcel occupied by Bombardier’s facility, is designated as Employment Land under the city’s Official Plan and that won’t change.

“Speaking on behalf of our municipality, it is our intention for it to remain so,” she wrote.

“It is regrettable that after so many millions of public dollars have been spent on the creation of an Aerospace Hub on the Downsview Lands, that the lead member of the group will walk away from the site and all of our investments,” says the letter obtained by the Star.

Augimeri said the city will hold the federal government to its promise that the federally managed and owned park and associated lands will be protected in perpetuity and held in the public trust.

“If any plans by Bombardier emerge in violation of this promise, we will fight them,” the letter reads.

In an interview, the city councillor said she had been approached by an undisclosed developer who said Bombardier had discussed selling the property for residential development for up to $ 900 million.

Two years ago, the province and federal governments gave Centennial College $ 44.2 million toward a $ 78-million aerospace campus at Downsview that is currently under construction. It was part of an aerospace hub that was touted for its potential to create thousands of jobs in the next 20 years.

Although it owns about 375 acres at Downsview, Bombardier only uses about 35 of those for its manufacturing and testing. Its 7,000-foot runway is seldom used.

Liberal MP Michael Levitt (York Centre) said a move from Bombardier’s historic presence at Downsview is concerning, particularly as the nearby community has many underemployed priority neighbourhoods.

“Should a sale take place, I’m going to fight to ensure there’s a full and comprehensive public consultation on any future development regarding the Downsview lands. It’s critical for this community,” he said.

“It’s a disappointing turn of events. Hopefully we can make sure there’s opportunities ahead,” said Levitt.

Bombardier has been a presence at Downsview since 1992 when it bought the De Havilland operation there, which was owned by Boeing at the time and had been operating on the Toronto property since 1928.

Canada Lands, the crown agency in charge of redeveloping and managing former government properties, owns 500 adjacent acres, including 290 acres of green space, at Downsview Park.

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Bombardier considers move away from Downsview