Save Union Station
Union Station view of the façade from Front Street.
Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 559, Series 2533, File 52.
On June 7, 2000, the City of Toronto bought Union Station from the Toronto Terminals Railway Company (TTR). Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman promoted this purchase as a method to help with the city’s hopes for the 2008 Olympics. In an effort to turn Union Station into the ‘crown jewel’ of Toronto, it was necessary to renovate it to increase capacity and handle a vastly larger number of commuters.
The City issued a request for proposal for the project. Two companies were considered. The first was LP Heritage, a Chicago-based firm, who had previously completed the restorations of New York’s Grand Central Station. A second interested party was Union Pearson Group (UPG), a Toronto based consortium of builders, formed specifically for this project.
News of various inconsistencies were reported by the media and in October of 2002, the group Save Union Station (SUS) formed. The group advocated for the best deal for the City and wanted to confirm that the top company won. The group was concerned that the dealings were being hidden in secrecy and demanded to see the documents supporting the City’s decision.
SUS agreed that Union Station needed renovations to continue being the main transportation hub in Toronto. But they disagreed with UPG’s plans. SUS claimed the plan did not meet the needs of the commuters. SUS’s main issue with the plan was that it did not include the widening of the train platforms—which were constantly overcrowded.
The group was also concerned with the lack of accessibility within the plan, the bypassing of the Great Hall, and how the plan focused on making the station a retail space, instead of a functional transportation hub. To combat this plan, SUS raised awareness by creating its own website, having a bulletin that updated members, and holding events. The group’s events hosted public speakers that educated the citizens of the plan.
Save Union Station event poster. John Sewell, who was a member of SUS, had his son design this poster.
Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1306, Series 312, File 224.
Additionally, SUS questioned Mayor Lastman’s relationship with UPG. Lastman had failed to acknowledge his son Dale’s personal and professional relationship with Larry Tanenbaum, the director of UPG. This relationship could have brought major financial success to Dale, and possibly Mayor Lastman, had UPG won. Finally, in January 2003, Mayor Lastman declared his conflict of interest and was no longer part of the decision process.
SUS petitioned to have Justice Coulter Osborne, the provincial Integrity Commissioner, to review the entire project. In his public report, Justice Osborne revealed that the deciding panel had held two votes. In the first vote, LP Heritage won. In the second vote, influenced by rumours of LP Heritage facing financial difficulties, UPG won.
Mayor Lastman with the chain of office.
Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 59, Series 860, File 1
Justice Osborne’s final decision stated that while there were irregularities, there was no undue influence regarding the success of UPG.
He called the process “imperfect, but fair.” SUS disbanded after this report believing that they had no other options.
Union Station, 2005. Afternoon.
Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 559, Series 2533, File 52
Union Station, 2005. Evening.
Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 559, Series 2533, File 60
However, the seeds of doubt had been planted and the deal was officially dead by 2006. Interestingly, UPG had proposed to spend $150 million for the complete redevelopment of the station, a clearly inadequate sum as we know today.
Did you know...
Maple Leaf Gardens mock up with Union Station serving as the grand entrance. April 1997. Architects HOK Sport and Roger Du Toit. The arena would be lifted four stories above the tracks.
Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1683,Series 432, File 164
Larry Tanenbaum has previous history in regards to Union Station. He is the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1997, the Toronto Maple Leafs revealed a plan to build an arena above the tracks of Union Station, with the Great Hall serving as the main entrance. Traditionally the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors share the same sports facility. The Union Station proposal came forth as an alternative to the Air Canada Centre, however since construction of the Air Canada Centre had already begun the Union Station idea was scrapped.
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