Staff with Canada Lands Company, the federal property manager that took control of the 231-hectare space late last year, are now in charge. The changeover is the latest twist in the story of the former military base since Ottawa announced it would become a “national urban park” in the late ’90s.
“We do not have plans at this stage as to any changes to Downsview Park,” said Robert Howald, acting president and CEO of Canada Lands. “We’re just at that beginning stage.”
Part of the property officially opened as a park last July under Parc Downsview Park, the federal subsidiary then in control. But there were further plans, including the construction of five residential neighbourhoods on the massive swath of land at Keele St. and Sheppard Ave. W., meant to help finance development of other parts of the property as public space.
Some neighbourhood development has started, but it’s unclear whether all park and construction plans will remain intact.
“Whether we change the direction a bit, that’s down the road,” Howald said, adding “we’re not starting from scratch,” and the previous plans will be taken “very seriously.”
By late spring, Canada Lands is expected to report back with a “proposed vision” to Rona Ambrose, minister of public works and government services, said her press secretary, Michael Bolkenius. He said there’s no intention to sell parkland.
Consultations will be held over the next “several months” with the community and city, Howald said, now that an internal financial and legal review is complete.
He wouldn’t say how many staff members were dismissed to reduce overhead in the “amalgamation” of companies. Only one executive remains of the original four, and the board has also been dismantled.
Bill Bryck, former president and CEO, said his contract ended early, after Ambrose announced Canada Lands would take control. He remained there for the transition until a few weeks ago, Bryck said.
“Change is concerning to some people, but I think the residents are overly concerned,” he said.
Rosanna Iaboni, from the Downsview Lands Community Voice Association, said the group had a good relationship with the previous executive and she’s due to have her first meeting with Canada Lands staff next week.
“A lot of work has gone into this,” said Iaboni, adding that while she wasn’t happy with previous plans, she at least knew what they were. “There’s a fear that they’re just going to sell off the land to developers and we’re going to 20, 30 highrise buildings in our backyard.”
Canada Lands is often associated with selling off government properties to make money. But Howald noted there are other valuable properties, such as the CN Tower, that remain in their possession.