Earlier this year I interviewed Leslie Kellen, the newly appointed president of the Leaside Business Park Association (LBPA). The LBPA is a not-for-profit corporation originally formed more than 50 years ago, mandated to promote the Leaside Business Park as a desirable location to conduct business. At the time, Leslie said, “The key to the LBPA’s future success leading business in the park is the ability to adapt and grow, to be inclusive, and to support innovation and explore synergies with the excellent and diverse stakeholder groups in the park and throughout the city of Toronto.”
The LBPA’s November 10 virtual Annual General Meeting offers the broader Leaside community a good opportunity to learn more about the work of this group. The LBPA welcomed new directors Ahmed Hussein, the executive director of the TNO, Andy Elder, proprietor of GrillTime, and Annissa Rodriguez, director of people and technology at XYZ Storage. These three will join eight returning directors, including president Leslie Kellen (XYZ Storage), Dag Enhorning (Siltech), Jeff Hohner (Tecumseh Capital), Kendall Fullerton (Lincoln Electric), Iulian Sandu (Tremco), Mary Chong (Revelo Bikes), Jeff Carefoote (Amsterdam Brewery), and myself (Leaside Innovation Centre) on the LBPA board for 2022.
If I could summarize the overarching feeling I got during the AGM, it would be one of “inclusiveness” and a meeting designed to engage a diverse set of stakeholders and open the door for increased collaboration. In just over 90 minutes there were nine non-LBPA speakers, including Geoff Kettel of the Leaside Residents Association, developer Charles Goldsmith, Shukria Dualeh from The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO), Councillor Jaye Robinson, MPP Kathleen Wynne, MP Rob Oliphant, Thomas McGinty from City Economic Development, property, Malcolm MacKay of Metrolinx, and Ann Brown and Patrick Rocca of the Leaside Heritage Society.
First speaker Charles Goldsmith, developer of the 154 Wicksteed Ave. project, said that “the association needs additional help, and that comes in the form of funding. The lack of funds for this organization to access services they need, such as traffic engineers, planners, and PR consultants, could be detrimental to the community. As such, my business partner Peter Shultz and I are providing the LBPA with $5,000 of sponsorship funding this year and are challenging other stakeholders to do the same.”
Certainly, this AGM was an opportunity to understand varying perspectives and to identify the challenges we as Leaside residents and business owners can expect in the future. Three consistently mentioned topics were: (1) the impact of zoning and development on jobs and traffic; (2) Covid recovery and assistance for local business; and (3) the location of the proposed Metrolinx train maintenance and storage facility.
The arrival of Covid has disrupted many businesses. Councillor Jaye Robinson confirmed that “the number one thing we’re dealing with at City Hall is the continued challenges related to the pandemic.” In her role as TTC chair, she explained that “in September, we are only at 30 per cent of where we were pre-Covid, so you can imagine the financial impacts are very significant.” To make matters worse there has also been a ‘ransomware’ attack that has been very difficult to deal with.
MP Rob Oliphant told the audience that “about 90 cents on every public dollar that was spent during the pandemic has come from the federal government” and that “over 400 small businesses in Don Valley West sought and got help from our office.” In future, the federal government will move away from blanket programs in favour of more targeted programs to vulnerable sectors including hospitality, tourism, transportation and travel.
At the municipal level, Thomas McGinty pointed to several “main street recovery and rebuild initiatives happening right now…to support those [vulnerable] sectors.” There is an accelerator program and an innovation fund to help retailers. There is CaféTO, a commercial rehabilitation fund to help revitalize vacant space in the city for occupancy, the Plaza Pops program to increase the vibrancy of strip malls, the Digital Main Street program to help companies adopt digital platforms, and the city’s façade improvement program. The city also continues to help guide employers through workplace health and safety plans and best practices to prevent Covid in the workplace, and is offering a rapid screening initiative for businesses that has been a big part of reopening here in the city.
Employment lands are a top priority
Speaking about development, Geoff Kettel noted that development and transportation issues are being driven by the Eglinton Crosstown and the ‘intensification’ underway in Leaside to meet the targets set out in the Ontario growth plan. (You can read more from Geoff in his year-end review in this issue.)
Clearly, we can expect zoning changes. Thomas McGinty mentioned two City initiatives currently underway – the Municipal Comprehensive Review and the Zoning Conformity Bylaw – with implications for the Leaside employment zone. He said that “the purpose of this exercise is just to remove some permitted uses from the zoning bylaws so [they] align with the official plan. … what that means for Leaside is that several uses that are currently permitted in the bylaws will no longer be allowed, and the intent of that is to remove those uses that would tend to destabilize a well-functioning employment area and then also address the issue of uses that take up a lot of space and don’t necessarily have the return on employment.”
Very messy process in Thorncliffe Park with Metrolinx
The location of the proposed Metrolinx train maintenance and storage facility that will support the Ontario line came up. MPP Kathleen Wynne expressed her frustration with the lack of communication/consultation between Metrolinx and the affected stakeholders during the site selection process. She suggested that this has led to a “very messy process in Thorncliffe Park with Metrolinx.” She described her efforts to facilitate two meetings between Metrolinx and the affected business and residential communities as “counterproductive, particularly the community table” when faced with an “intractable position on the part of Metrolinx.” She added that “it’s going to be an ongoing issue for many years, quite frankly, because there’s a conversation with Hydro One about developing some of the hydro lands.”
Metrolinx’s Malcolm MacKay, the program sponsor for the Ontario line, described the site selection process and how a “hybrid solution” was created to effectively split the occupation of the area into two, thus keeping the heavy industrial business along Beth Nealson Dr. and Wicksteed Ave. He explained that Metrolinx is “actively working with affected businesses to relocate them. He highlighted a “very active community benefits program” that Metrolinx is implementing, “which will allow us to bring services into the community through engagement with the elected officials, as well as the community.” He also referred to the “200 to 300 jobs [that will be] available, and to the competitive advantage the Ontario line will bring to the local community.
As contentious as several of these issues sound, there were plenty of examples highlighted at the AGM showing that this disparate group of stakeholders can indeed create synergy by working together to strengthen the infrastructure and local business ecosystem that will drive future growth.
In his first year at the helm of the LBPA, I feel Leslie Kellen is successfully steering the ship, and although the waters remain far from calm, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor!
Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.