Over the last few years, I have followed the purchase and demolition of over a dozen houses in Downtown Brampton, in the block bounded by George, Nelson, Elizabeth, and Railroad Streets. Metrolinx, the provincial transit planning and operating agency, acquired the block for a new surface parking lot for the neighbouring GO Transit station.
At first, the parking lot was intended to replace parking spaces lost due to construction of a new post-secondary education campus — a joint venture between Ryerson University and Sheridan College — on the main GO Station lands. Though the provincial government pulled funding for the campus in the fall of 2018, Metrolinx continued work on the parking lot, completing the demolition, clearing the land, and building the parking area.
Now, it is possible that the parking lot will never open.
At the Brampton City Council meeting on January 26, 2022, councillors considered a request by Rogers for two Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) in order for it to relocate its existing Brampton offices at 8200 Dixie Road in Bramalea to a new build in Downtown Brampton. The particular property Rogers looks to acquire for its new campus is the same one Metrolinx acquired, cleared, and partly constructed its new parking lot.
The property at 8200 Dixie Road was built in the 1963 as a Northern Electric (later Northern Telecom) plant, which produced switchboards and other telecommunications equipment. In 1995, the plant closed, and the building was refurbished to become the headquarters for Nortel Networks. In 2005, during Nortel’s infamous fall into bankruptcy, the property was sold to Rogers, which uses it today for its business operations and technical offices, with 3,000 workers stationed there.
Rogers is interested in the downtown site for several reasons. The new campus would be adjacent to several transit links, including the GO Transit Kitchener Line, with links to Downtown Toronto (where Rogers has its head office) and the Kitchener-Waterloo technology hub. In its submission to the city, Rogers also notes the proposed LRT extension into Downtown Brampton (now in the design phase, either as a tunnel or a surface route) and planned bus improvements. Though it is served by Brampton Transit, the 8200 Dixie Road site is almost entirely dependent on its employees driving to work.
The new Rogers downtown site would support Brampton’s goals of becoming a cybersecurity centre of excellence and landing a major postsecondary education campus — Ryerson University continues to be interested in expanding in Brampton and the University of Guelph has expressed interest in relocating its Humber College presence to Brampton to better serve its student base.
There are also several development proposals for Downtown Brampton. The City of Brampton is still planning to build a new Centre for Innovation to support education and business development. The new facility, located adjacent to the downtown transit terminal, will include a new central library. New highrise developments will bring thousands of new residential units to downtown Brampton, walkable to local businesses, the GO station, and Rogers’ planned new campus.
Map of Metrolinx/Rogers lands in Downtown Brampton, with surrounding active development plans
The new office campus — proposed to be 200,000 to 500,000 square feet — would have a smaller footprint than the Dixie Road site. By relocating its offices, Rogers would then be free to sell or redevelop the old Nortel lands for housing and new industrial uses, likely for warehousing and logistics. The development of the old land would certainly finance the new property.
Rogers wanted municipal support for the MZOs so it could move quickly towards designing its new office complex. In response to a question from council, Rogers indicated that it had already been talking with Metrolinx about purchasing the land, and that Metrolinx itself was supportive. Mayor Patrick Brown indicated that he has been speaking with Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster, and that Metrolinx would submit its own letter of support.
MZOs have a controversial reputation. In Ontario, the Minister of Municipal Affairs has the authority to issue a zoning order over any property that overrides the normal zoning process. Traditionally, MZOs have been used infrequently, often in an emergency situation (such as after a disaster, such as the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake), or to fast track the construction of a major employer or housing development, typically issued at the request of the municipality.
The Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government have issued MZOs much more frequently, often for projects with significant opposition. This included the site of a proposed Amazon warehouse on the Pickering/Ajax border, which was strongly opposed by environmentalists and Ajax politicians, yet supported by Pickering officials. Meanwhile, a MZO requested by the City of Toronto, for an affordable housing project in North York, has yet to be issued. (It is worth noting that the project is in a PC-held riding, represented by Associate Minister of Transportation Stan Cho.)
But, in this case, with a unanimous vote of endorsement from Brampton City Council, with support from Metrolinx and local business groups the new Rogers relocation should prove to be less contentious than other recent MZOs.
There are still a few questions that will have to be answered in due time:
- Will Metrolinx be able to provide all-day, two-way GO train service to Downtown Brampton by the time Rogers is ready to relocate its Brampton operations? Right now, the Kitchener Line is constrained through Brampton as it uses a busy CN freight corridor. A third track and platform at Downtown Brampton will be needed to support commuters arriving from Toronto in the morning. Though the planned new transit hub at Main and Nelson Streets will support this expansion, work has yet to begin on that project, including a temporary bus facility as the old terminal and office building above is demolished.
- Will Brampton agree on the Main Street LRT extension, whether it will be in a tunnel or at-grade in Downtown Brampton? If so, will it be able to secure funding from the province and the federal government? As transit access is key for Rogers’ proposal, and for potential new educational instructions, closure on this long-running matter is important.
- How many workers will be on site at Rogers’ new complex? Though 200,000 square feet will be enough space for about 1,000 employees, which is just one-third of its Brampton workforce. Perhaps Rogers is looking towards a hybrid model of work, where employees are on site only part-time.
Finally, it is interesting how Metrolinx, a public agency, was determined to assemble land and build a new parking lot, only to see that land sold to a large private company. However, having major employers located adjacent to regional transit hubs is a good thing, especially as it represents a shift away from GO’s traditional model of transporting commuters to Union Station in the morning and back to the suburbs in the afternoon.
For Downtown Brampton, Rogers’ plans for relocating to the urban core is a badly-needed shot in the arm. Locating a major employer to the core will support existing and new businesses. After many attempts to revitalize downtown, this latest plan might be the catalyst that changes everything.