Buttonville out, redevelopment in

Ongoing speculation about the fate of Buttonville Airport has now been confirmed. Flights out of the Markham-based terminal are expected to be grounded within the next five years to make way for recently announced redevelopment plans.

The continued viability of Buttonville Airport, owned and operated by the Sifton family since 1963, was called into question more than a year ago. In April of 2009, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority stopped a $1.6 million subsidy it had extended in exchange for coverage of overflow from Pearson Airport.

Derek Sifton, president of Toronto Airways Limited, said that efforts to secure replacement funding from other sources failed.

“All the levels of government have basically walked away from us,” he said.

As the private provider of a public service, Sifton said he made it known that Buttonville Airport’s future was ultimately at stake.

“Nobody came to the table, nobody wanted to help keep our facility open,” he said.

Faced with rising costs, among other issues, Sifton said it was time to go a different route and tap into the value of the site. He described the vision for redevelopment as a “town within a city.” With the plans, Sifton anticipates that more jobs will be created in the area than will be lost with the departure of the aviation hub.

“Collectively, we believe that what we’re about to embark on here is something really, really special,” he said.

Toronto Airways’ parent company, Armadale Co. Limited, has entered into a joint venture with real estate giant Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited to realize the site’s transformation.

In an e-mail, Heath Applebaum, a spokesperson for Cadillac Fairview, said the concept for the 170-acre site is to create a high-density, mixed-use development that may include condos, hotels, offices, restaurants and retail shops.

“We hope to make this very pedestrian friendly and built according to green sustainability standards,” said Applebaum.

Cadillac Fairview doesn’t expect it will require an official plan amendment for the proposed development but intends to submit a secondary plan application in the near future, he said. He added that he thinks it will be supported, as he believes the project will benefit the community.

Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman said he has concerns about Buttonville Airport’s impending closure. A big one is what will happen to the 350 aircraft and users that currently operate out of and rely on the facility as well as the impact it will have on trade. Shurman noted that the airport has been generating nearly $100 million in trade in recent years.

“I think it’s sad,” he said. “I think that Buttonville is a lifeline for York region.”

Shurman indicated that the airport had tried to get support from the federal and provincial governments through the infrastructure program.

“I think that some level of government should have seen to Buttonville’s needs,” he said.

It’s not necessarily the end for Buttonville Airport, though. Toronto Airways is also looking at relocating the terminal.

For Sifton, the federally-owned 18,600 acres in Markham, Pickering and Uxbridge known as Pickering Lands, would make the most sense. But he’s in talks with other municipalities, including Barrie, Oshawa and Peterborough.

Buttonville Airport will remain in operation until the redevelopment plans take shape, he said. And that will depend on getting the appropriate permissions in place.

No planning applications have been made to the Town of Markham at this time, as the project is still in the preliminary stages.

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