The 2022 Annual General Meeting of the Leaside Business Park Association took place on November 9th at the Amsterdam Brewery. It was the first time in three years that the AGM had been held in-person in addition to virtually. There is no denying the advantage of being physically present with the group of stakeholders who care deeply about the future of Leaside’s employment zone, a strategically important industrial area for the City of Toronto as confirmed by Tyson Ma, the newly appointed economic development officer for the city, whose area includes Leaside.
In February 2021, Leaside Life featured an interview with then incoming LBPA president Leslie Kellen. At the time he said, “The key to the LBPA’s future success leading business in the park is the ability to adapt and grow and to work together with all our stakeholders but through the lens of the business park while continuing our advocacy efforts to answer the needs in the community. [We] will be inclusive and support innovation and explore synergies with the excellent and diverse stakeholder groups in the park and throughout the city of Toronto.”
More common ground than opportunities to disagree
Fast forward 20 months and the LBPA has remained laser-focused on operationalizing that vision. Leslie opened the meeting by reminding the audience that “over the next decade, there’s going to be many, many changes coming in with generational projects well underway, and these are going to bring with them many opportunities. But with these opportunities comes change that needs to be managed.”
He told the audience that “we’ll do it together and we’ll do it through collaboration. If we’re all at the table, if we’re all having discussions, if nothing is swept under the rug. So often you have diverse opinions that are often easier to talk about behind closed doors than to bring out in the light of day.” He mentioned that over the last year while working closely with all stakeholders, there appears to be “much more common ground than there are opportunities to disagree.”
What I witnessed this week at the AGM was the LBPA using the meeting as a platform to further strengthen the relationships it is developing to forge among those ‘diverse stakeholder groups’ Leslie referred to at the start of his term. During the meeting, the 2022-23 board of directors was confirmed: new directors Matt Peacock and Andre Grace Estrella of Amsterdam Brewery and Leaside resident Vanessa Rose. They will join returning members Leslie Kellen (President), Dag Enhorning (Treasurer), Jeff Hohner, Kendall Fullerton, Glenn Asano, Mary Chong, Andy Elder, Ahmed Hussain and Annissa Rodriguez to form the 2022-23 LBPA board of directors. The board also thanked departing board members Iulian Sandu (Tremco) and Jeff Carefoote (Amsterdam Brewery) for their years of volunteer service.
In addition to its members, the LBPA’s “Community Partners” were out in full force with all three levels of government represented, including our freshly re-elected councillor, our new MPP, and a representative for our MP. In addition, representatives from the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, the City of Toronto’s business growth services unit from the economic development and culture division, the Leaside Residents Association, The Neighbourhood Organization, Leaside Heritage Preservation Society, Metrolinx, the BDC, property developers and others. True to Leslie’s original aim, the occasion was an opportunity for the LBPA to demonstrate how it is working to facilitate inclusion and collaboration with a lineup of relevant speakers who provided updates, shared perspectives, and offered their support for the work the LBPA is undertaking.
Protecting our employment lands and increasing the number of higher value jobs are key
With 13 different speakers and two-plus hours of content, it is not possible to do justice to all the perspectives shared at the AGM. The key takeaways I noted include:
• Protecting the employment lands and increasing the number of higher value jobs is a key objective. “I’ve worked very hard to protect your area [from being turned into non-employment lands] and my commitment is to continue to do that,” noted Councillor Robinson. Tyson Ma said “the Leaside Business Park is a major industrial and commercial park in the heart of Toronto, and approximately 90% of all manufacturing jobs in the city are located in employment areas similar to this site. We need to protect the employment lands within the park and preserve the jobs that are in this area. We want this site to be a neighbourhood where you can live, work and play all in the same area.” Geoff Kettel added, “What we need are jobs, not just more homes. …The wonderful opportunity we’ve got coming [is to be able to bring in] exactly the kind of 21st century high tech and practical jobs that are good and fantastic.”
• Increased representation and community engagement will be required to effect change. Councillor Robinson said she felt “quite frankly, a bit depressed in the record low voter turnout [29%] we had in our October election. … It really matters at City Hall. Your voices are heard definitely through me at City Hall. So many people chose not to bother to vote. And that’s a trend we don’t want to see continue. We want people to feel connected to City Hall … [and] that’s why your association is such a great example of why we need community voices at City Hall on a continued basis. And I’m so glad that you continue to meet and engage in and really work on one of the last protected employment lands in Toronto.”
• Collaboration among LBPA stakeholders will be key to successfully navigate the changes affecting the business park. MPP Stephanie Bowman commended the association for its work “to strengthen those partnerships between public and private enterprise,” and Geoff Kettel acknowledged the benefits of working more closely with the LBPA, in particular in the areas of transportation and safety. Andy Elder, board member and owner of Grilltime, shared his view that the retail sector had historically been under-represented at the LBPA. He explained that the creation of the LBPA’s new retail-focused committee this year casts aside that outdated thinking. As the chair of this new committee, Andy appealed to other retailers to build stronger ties among retailers in Leaside to increase the value of LBPA membership for this segment of business in the future.
• To accelerate the pace of commercial development we need to eliminate unnecessary “red tape” and implement the official plan. Charles Goldsmith, developer of the Leaside Innovation Centre on Wicksteed, made the point that a fundamental problem slowing commercial development in the business park is that zoning bylaws are not consistent with the City’s official plan. The need to apply for rezoning pushes up the cost and adds unnecessary delay to each project’s timeline. “That is, to me, one of the biggest impediments to the development in the Leaside employment zone. It’s time-consuming. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s incredibly expensive. If you happen to be an owner of a smaller property and you’d like to do something about redeveloping it, that would be a massive decision.”
The most recent AGM is proof that the LBPA’s strategy of inclusion and collaboration bodes well for the future of business in Leaside. The need for a unified voice and broad representation of businesses located in the Leaside employment zone comes at a time when there are several external factors affecting the business park like recovering from the pandemic, the arrival of the Eglinton Crosstown stations, Metrolinx investment and job growth, various development initiatives including conversion requests, and a shift in the composition and nature of businesses operating in the park. It’s only through this kind of collaborative approach that the LBPA will be able to craft the narrative and work on a plan to bring the next 10 years of prosperity to our community.