Categories
Brampton Development Transit Urban Planning

The future of Downtown Brampton

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Metrolinx-owned houses on Railroad Street, Brampton

Over the last three years, I have been following developments in Downtown Brampton, especially lands surrounding the Brampton GO Station. In April 2016, Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit, began buying properties in the northwest corner of Brampton’s downtown core, including twelve houses and two low-rise office buildings. The land assembly was for a new surface parking lot, an odd choice for a transit agency that was otherwise interested in promoting compatible land use and transit connections in designated urban centres.

It was later revealed that Metrolinx, Ryerson University, and the City of Brampton were working on a new downtown satellite campus, with the main academic building to be constructed on part of the GO parking lot, north of the rail corridor. While the construction of more surface parking in a downtown core was still a bad idea, at least there was a reason behind the land assembly. The new Ryerson site would make use of other city resources, such as the Rose Theatre and the planned Centre for Innovation (CFI). The CFI would include academic space and a central library, to be built on city-owned land south of the GO station and bus terminal.

university mapPrevious plans for Downtown Brampton, including the Centre for Innovation and the Ryerson campus on the GO Transit lot. Replacement parking would be built on land assembled south of the rail corridor. 

In October, the newly elected Conservative government cancelled provincial funding for Brampton’s Ryerson campus, as well as other suburban satellite universities planned in Markham and Milton. While Brampton and Ryerson decided to continue working on a scaled-back development including a new centre for cybersecurity, a new plan was developed for downtown revitalization. Details are available in the May 15, 2019 Committee of Council agenda.

Here’s a simplified summary of the new plan:

  • The CFI will now be built on the north side of Nelson Street West, between Main Street and George Street, on the site of the existing downtown bus terminal, a 6-story office building constructed in 1989, and an older two-storey commercial block. The office building, though only thirty years old, is reported to be in poor condition. The new 15,700 square metre (170,000 square feet) CFI will include the central library, education space, event space, and retail. It may also include additional floors for offices.
  • The bus terminal will be expanded, as the existing facility is too small to accommodate GO and Brampton Transit buses. There will also be room for a new third track through Downtown Brampton, essential for frequent two-way GO service between Toronto, Brampton, and Kitchener.
  • The City of Brampton will likely build a temporary terminal on the south side of Nelson Street to accommodate the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of the CFI and terminal. This land, also owned by the city, is currently occupied by a surface lot and an old commercial building that was originally a Loblaws store. Retail tenants are being evicted from all of the above properties.
  • The city is also interested in using the two office buildings purchased by Metrolinx for short-term academic and administrative purposes as the new CFI is being built.
  • The houses on Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets acquired by Metrolinx will still be torn down, but without the imminent construction of the Ryerson building, a new parking lot is no longer planned. It is possible that the block will see transit-oriented development in the long term.

IMG_6155-001Vacated office buildings at George and Nelson Streets that may see new life under the city’s new plans

The map below illustrates the revised downtown plans.

It remains a shame that Metrolinx decided to buy up a whole city block and displace dozens of residents (among the properties it acquired were two heritage houses and a rooming house), especially now that the Brampton Ryerson campus is being scaled back. But the city desperately needs a central library, and happily, Ryerson remains interested in partnering with Brampton. It’s good to see that transit expansion, including a larger bus terminal and GO rail expansion, are part of the plans.

Categories
Brampton Development Politics Transit Urban Planning

What’s next for Downtown Brampton?

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Boarded up houses on Elizabeth Street, Downtown Brampton

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced the location of Ryerson University’s Brampton campus, a partnership with Sheridan College, to be built on the GO Station parking lot in Downtown Brampton. Meanwhile, Metrolinx quietly purchased several houses and office buildings south of the station for new GO Transit surface parking, replacing the spots that Ryerson will build upon.

The merits of a satellite university campus are open to debate – some smaller satellite campuses have struggled to attract students and faculty and distinguish themselves. Brampton’s the planned campus site was, by far, the best one for both the City of Brampton and Ryerson University.

But today, the Progressive Conservative provincial government, elected in June, cancelled three planned suburban post-secondary education campuses — the York University/Seneca College campus in Markham, the Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, and the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton.

This announcement came only one day after the October 22 municipal elections. While Toronto elected a smaller 25-ward council and returned John Tory to the mayor’s office, the voters Brampton elected former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown as mayor, narrowly defeating incumbent Linda Jeffrey. Brown had just moved to Brampton after his campaign for the elected Peel Region Chair was cancelled at the same time Brown’s successor as PC leader, Premier Doug Ford, imposed the new 25 ward structure on Toronto. We can only speculate if the animosity between Brown and Ford was a factor in this announcement. It’s more likely that the decision to cancel the three campuses was already made, with the announcement timed to take place after the municipal elections. In any case, mayor-elect Brown’s job has already become more interesting.

Brampton’s satellite campus, which had a 2022 opening date, would have hosted 2,000 undergraduate students. Though this is tiny compared to Ryerson’ downtown campus, which 36,000 undergraduate students currently enrolled, it was the best possible site, adjacent to the GO station, several Brampton Transit routes, the Rose Theatre, and local shops and restaurants and recreation facilities. The school would have made use of the the planned Centre for Innovation, a proposed new central library to the corner of George and Nelson Streets.

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Map of the Ryerson University campus site, the Centre for Innovation, and other downtown buildings. From the City of Brampton website.

The York University/Seneca College campus in Markham was also strategically located, on a site adjacent to Unionville GO Station, in the mixed-use Downtown Markham development. In contrast, the Milton site was in a greenfield far from transit links. It’s fair to say that I’m not too disappointed on Milton’s behalf.

With Brampton’s campus dead, for now, there’s still the land on the south side of the station. Three homes are already knocked down, while two office buildings and several houses are boarded up, awaiting demolition.

Will Downtown Brampton see nothing more than additional GO Transit surface parking now that the campus is cancelled? Or will a new opportunity come along?

BramptonParkingLotThe existing GO Transit lot at Brampton Station, where the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus was planned

Categories
Brampton Development Infrastructure Ontario Urban Planning

A tale of two university campuses

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Site of Brampton’s new Ryerson/Sheridan campus

Last week, the provincial government announced two new post-secondary educational campuses in Toronto’s fast-growing western suburbs, due to open in 2022. Wilfrid Laurier University will be partnering with Conestoga College on a new facility in Milton. Brampton will be getting a new Ryerson University campus in partnership with Sheridan College. Both new campuses, each receiving $90 million in provincial capital funding, will be focused on undergraduate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programs. Both will host up to 2,000 students once the new facilities are fully operational.

Despite the many commonalities between the new Milton and Brampton facilities, the announced campus locations could not be any more different. Milton’s Laurier/Conestoga campus (which I previously wrote about as an example of the problems of greenfield institutions) will be located on a new greenfield site on the southwestern outskirts of the town’s built-up area, while Brampton’s Ryerson/Sheridan campus will be located in that city’s downtown core, on a site currently used for commuter parking. But since GO Transit’s free commuter parking has to go somewhere, Metrolinx has been buying up and demolishing houses and offices on a nearby downtown block.

I compared the two new campuses for TVO

Categories
Brampton Transit Urban Planning

What’s going on in Downtown Brampton?

IMG_6139-0015 Railroad Street, on the City of Brampton’s heritage registrar, is one of several houses recently boarded up in Downtown Brampton

Update April 19, 2018: the location for Ryerson’s new Brampton campus was announced this morning. The 2000-student campus, which will be a partnership between Ryerson University and Sheridan College, will be built at the corner of Mill and Church Streets, on the GO Transit parking lot. This explains Metrolinx’s (GO Transit’s parent agency) purchase and demolition of properties south of the rail corridor, on Nelson, George, Railroad, and Elizabeth Streets, which I wrote about below.

While it remains unfortunate that surface parking will replace housing and offices, at least in the short-to-medium term, at least we now know what’s going on in Downtown Brampton. The downtown campus site, with excellent transit links, is the right location.


Nearly two years ago, I wrote about how Metrolinx, the Province of Ontario’s regional transportation authority, had purchased several houses and two office buildings in Downtown Brampton. The intention at the time was to build a new surface lot to accommodate GO Transit commuters, a symptom of the commuter transit system’s dependence on providing parking.

Metrolinx is responsible for GO Transit, the UP Express airport rail link, the Presto farecard, and planning and constructing transit infrastructure in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Since my 2016 blog post, three dwellings — 28A and 28B Nelson Street West, a semi-detached house, and 42 Elizabeth Street North — were demolished, but there was little other visible change until this month. Now eight more houses — on Elizabeth Street and Railroad Street have been boarded up and their electricity disconnected, including at least one rooming house that was occupied until very recently. The two office buildings — 29 and 37 George Street — are also emptying out.

Four of these properties — 30 Nelson Street West, 46 and 50 Elizabeth Street North, and 5 Railroad Street — are listed by the City of Brampton as containing heritage resources.

IMG_6153-001Offices at 37 George Street are moving out

So what exactly is going on? Why has Metrolinx purchased twelve homes and two offices in Downtown Brampton? Is it for a surface parking lot as previously reported in 2016? Or does this have to do with recent plans for a new Brampton campus of Ryerson University?

The City of Brampton has been assembling land and buildings nearby, including 8 Nelson Street West, a six-storey office building above the downtown bus terminal. The city also owns the old Loblaws store on the southeast corner of George and Nelson Street. As Bramptonist‘s Divyesh Mistry found, Metrolinx noted “…continued collaboration between Metrolinx staff […] with the City of Brampton and Ryerson University on the Brampton Station redevelopment.”

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Houses on Elizabeth Street North recently vacated and boarded up. 

If this land assembly is, in fact, to support a yet unannounced Ryerson University campus site on this block or on the existing Brampton GO Station parking lot, then this is on the whole very good news, though I remain concerned about the loss of downtown housing, particularly rooming houses and affordable apartments that some of older homes in the area have been divided into. A downtown campus with excellent transit links — GO Transit and several Brampton Transit bus routes — makes more sense than Milton’s plans for a greenfield campus for Wilfrid Laurier University distant from GO Transit’s bus and rail lines.

IMG_6149-00146 Elizabeth Street North, a rooming house with heritage status, is now boarded up, with the electricity disconnected. 

Unlike a competing university campus site near Etobicoke Creek backed by New Brampton (a politically influential group of local business and landowners who also opposed the Hurontario-Main LRT route), the GO Station and the Nelson/Railroad/Elizabeth Street buildings are outside the historical floodplain and can be built quicker.

If the existing GO Transit parking lot were to be used for Ryerson’s Brampton campus, then an alternative parking site would be required — hence the recent purchase and the demolition of these homes and offices. The construction of a new surface lot in an designated “anchor hub” — where rapid transit lines meet and urban intensification is encouraged — would be most unfortunate, but I hope that it will not be a long-term solution. On the other hand, a new university campus is exactly the type of land use that should be located at an “anchor hub.”

So far, local officials have kept very quiet about the land assembly on the block surrounded by George, Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets, perhaps waiting for approvals from the province and Ryerson University before making a public announcement. But with residents and office tenants displaced and houses boarded up suddenly, confirmation of these plans should come soon.