Future Bright for Toronto Construction & Infrastructure

There may not be 180 cranes in Toronto’s skies anymore, and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation keeps warning of a high risk of correction for the city, but don’t expect the construction sector in the GTA to fade any time soon.

That was the message from panelists John McKendrick, executive vice-president with responsibilities for project delivery at Infrastructure Ontario (IO), and Toronto councillor Michael Thompson, who chairs the Toronto Economic Development and Culture Committee and is also chair of Invest Toronto. Both spoke to attendees during the CEO breakfast at The Buildings Show, which was held Dec. 3 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

McKendrick and Thompson were joined on stage by Toronto Construction Association (TCA) president and CEO John Mollenhauer, whose official role was discussion moderator, but as the chief executive representing more than 2,200 TCA member companies he often joined in the discussion.

The GTA’s future looks bright said the high-powered panelists, laying out a long list of current and upcoming public projects on the books of the City of Toronto, the province and Metrolinx that amount to many tens of billions worth of construction work. As for the private sector, there are 70,000 condo units already sold that are slated for construction in the near term, even if the recent momentum for condo buildings has stalled, noted Mollenhauer. What, he then asked Thompson, did he see for office and mixed-used projects?

In response, Thompson made a strong case for a Toronto advantage among world cities looking to attract newcomers and investment.

“In the past six months, there have been many people coming into my office saying, we want to build offices in Toronto,” said Thompson. “There is a tremendous push to build offices in downtown Toronto.”

The city’s planning department has just launched a new three-year program called TOcore, said Thompson, that will focus on the downtown as a place to live, work and invest. Included will be “soft” infrastructure such as parks and support for vulnerable citizens.

“A lot of people want to be here,” said Thompson.

Thompson returned to the theme later on, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent banner while overseas that declared, “Diversity is Canada’s Strength.” That borrows from Toronto’s motto, he says, which is “Diversity our Strength.” But Thompson didn’t complain about the appropriation, and argued that the city’s diversity is a key strength in attracting investment. Newcomers have links to many of the world’s nations, he said, presenting outreach business opportunities.

“Toronto will be growing more in the future,” he said. “Here’s a little secret, more Americans are wanting to move to Canada with some of the problems they have down there, the shootings…people want to be here.”

The city has a thriving culture that attracts top talent, he said, and it is a caring city that welcomes people.

The city’s universities are top rated and Ontario has generous provisions permitting international students to work in the province after graduation (through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program).

It all adds up to a city that businesses, investors and potential residents find very attractive, said Thompson which bodes well for the future.

McKendrick and Thompson mentioned the following major transit or transportation projects in the GTA with recent or near-term start dates: the Scarborough subway, the Eglinton Crosstown project, the Finch LRT, Highway 407 East Phase 2 and the Hurontario LRT; and such Metrolinx projects as double-tracking on the Stouffville corridor and near York University, construction of the 500,000-square-foot East Rail Maintenance Facility in Whitby, continuing work on the Union Station Revitalization Project and significant electrification work across the system.

The transit spends, said Mollenhauer, were “ridiculously long overdue.”

The big new institutional project, said McKendrick, will be construction of a new highrise courthouse on Centre Avenue near University Avenue in Toronto, possibly bringing eight current facilities under one roof.

McKendrick also noted that with many large-scale hospital and other institutional projects reaching completion across the province recently under IO’s watch, the focus will shift to civil projects and there will also be numerous smaller projects that IO will be overseeing. With Ontario’s pledge to spend $130 billion over the next 10 years, combined with the federal Liberal government’s promise of to spend $125 billion on infrastructure over the same period, the panelists agreed there certainly ought to be ample support for GTA projects.

“There will be a lot of work out there, and a lot of small projects as well,” said McKendrick.

The other two panelists acknowledged in addressing McKendrick that IO has been in the spotlight recently with the success of its public-private partnership (P3) management model that shifts risks to the private sector for megaprojects. McKendrick chuckled and said P3s are not perfect and “mistakes” had been made, but noted IO P3 projects using AFP (Alternative Financing and Procurement) recently were validated by the cost-consulting firm Hanscomb, which found that 98 per cent of IO projects using AFP had been completed on budget and 73 per cent were completed on time.

With Toronto debating the use of P3s for some of its big projects – there are still strong opponents on council, Thompson acknowledged – the councillor said the city in future needs to take steps to ensure its planning and procurement systems are efficient and user-friendly. People have called them “frustrating,” he said. Toronto needs to make sure its documents are easy to understand and that systems are streamlined and smooth, he said. He pointed to the Union Station project, with its cost overruns and “hidden issues,” as an example of a major project where the build phase was flawed and the process would have benefited from better dialogue and clearer rules.

This article was written by Don Wall and published on Daily Commercial News. Republished with permission.

Interest(s): Construction, Industry News Date: December 15, 2015