Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mimico Waterfront Park opens

Political push on for phase two; Amos Waites Park revitalization also in the works

Mimico's new multi-million dollar public waterfront access and ecological and recreational improvement plan opens Monday, with political pressure mounting to move on phase two of the project.

Record-breaking rainfall this week frustrated work crews' efforts to complete construction of Mimico Waterfront Linear Park, a $10.6-million project with new stone beaches, a sand beach, a 150-metre boardwalk and public trails for pedestrians and cyclists.
Public celebrations, including a barbecue, take place Monday afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. at Amos Waites Park.

"It's a really big celebration for us," said Nancy Gaffney, waterfront specialist with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the agency that designed and built the project after lengthy public consultation.

"It's something the community really needed. We think it will be a big hit. We really want it to be a park where people love to go."

The park boardwalk was borne of residents' suggestions, as was the preservation of a sand beach at Amos Waites Park.

New aquatic habitat has been added to two sheltered embayments. Thousands of wetland plants are in, protected from Canada Geese and carp by snow fencing. Grass has yet to take hold on the lookout node.

Meanwhile, pressure is on to complete the entire 1.1-kilometre project stymied for years because 171 metres of shoreline remain in private hands. Fifteen other property owners signed over their once-exclusive waterfront access to the TRCA for $3 million.

The missing link means only the first phase - about 500 metres of shoreline from Norris Crescent Parkette to Superior Avenue Parkette - is now complete.

Mimico Waterfront Linear Park currently sits isolated from the Martin Goodman Trail and the Waterfront Trail to the east, which begins at Humber Bay Park West and extends into downtown Toronto.

At present, cyclists and others on the Martin Goodman Trail must detour at Marina Del Rey condominiums north from the lake into road traffic on Lake Shore Boulevard West.

"Phase two is the critical link to increase the bicycle path and the Discovery Walk," Jim Lord, past president of Humber Bay Shores Condominium Association said in a previous interview. "We feel very strongly that phase two has to proceed as quickly as possible to integrate the whole lakeside park system."

The association. with 6,000 members in 13 condominiums, is one of Toronto's largest ratepayer groups.

Phase two - extending the trail another half kilometre farther east from Superior Avenue Parkette to Humber Bay Park West - won't happen until TRCA acquires three properties from two owners.

Years ago, one property owner refused to sell, while the other hasn't responded to written correspondence, and is believed to live outside the country, Gaffney said.

"There's such tremendous pressure from all levels of government, and from local politicians (to move on phase two) that we need to have another crack at (acquiring the properties)," Gaffney said, calling the process 'complex'. "We're not going to let phase two go. We need to make that 400-metre connection" (to the Martin Goodman Trail to the east).

Last month, Waterfront Toronto's board heard rare deputations from Etobicoke-Lakeshore politicians Ward 6 Councillor Mark Grimes, MPP Laurel Broten and MP Michael Ignatieff who pushed for phase two to move forward.

Waterfront Toronto, formerly known as the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, is the project's funder.

"They got the message loud and clear that this project is a priority for our community," Grimes said yesterday. "The trail is not just in downtown Toronto; it extends into Mississauga. It will be a key piece of the economic boost of Mimico-by-the-Lake and the Vision 2020 project. It's good momentum."

At the same time, city plans to enlarge and revitalize Amos Waites Park - where the new boardwalk is located - is currently underway.

This week, bulldozers began demolition of three city-acquired businesses immediately adjacent to the park to the east: Rex Restaurant, a former Russian restaurant and a travel agency.
The vision is to enlarge the park, bring it to the street, build a 'festival plaza' and eventually add new playground equipment, a splash pad, and a new pool, Grimes said.

Some $400,000 in community benefit funding from developers is already secured, Grimes said, and will be invested in a 'festival plaza' for public gatherings, and possibly music in the park.
Additional anticipated developer funds will be dedicated to other park improvements, such as play equipment, Grimes said.

Plans to enlarge and revitalize the park met with enthusiasm from David Pritchard, Mimico-by-the-Lake BIA chair. The BIA hosts its cramped, Christmas tree lighting at the foot of Amos Waites Park annually.

"It's certainly going to help revitalize the area, but to be a real catalyst, phase two needs to be completed," said Pritchard, who owns Birds and Beans Cafe.

"I think the investment in the park and the trail will really alert people to the opportunities there. There are still some vacant places that would be great to get a business going."
A second community consultation meeting on the redevelopment of Amos Waites Park will be held sometime in August or September, the date yet to be finalized.

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