Ajax to fight for casino awarded to Pickering
Ajax Mayor Steve Parish has said the decision shows “contempt” for the town and for quarter-horse racing.
April 5, 2018
While Pickering officials are jubilant about being awarded a casino, Ajax vows the fight to keep Ajax Downs isn’t over.
On Tuesday, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation announced it would be building a new casino in Pickering. Under provincial rules, that means the facility in Ajax will close.
The Pickering site, called Durham Live, is at Church and Bayly Sts., across from Annandale Golf and Curling Club. In addition to the casino, the site could also have a hotel, convention centre, office space, a water park and a film studio.
Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan was pleased with the news.
“This is something that’s taken a long time to come to fruition and we’re pleased the decision has been made. We’re looking forward to working with Durham Live going forward,” Ryan said.
Steve Apostolopoulos, co-founder and managing partner of Pickering Developments, said he’s excited Durham Live was chosen.
“We’ve been working very hard for many years and we officially got the go-ahead so we’re very happy to proceed,” he noted. “It’s great news for the region. We want to thank everyone who’s been involved in the process.”
However, Ajax plans to fight to keep the casino.
Ajax Mayor Steve Parish said there were a number of things that were strange about the announcement on Tuesday.
“First of all, there hasn’t been any government announcement on it,” he said, adding Ajax-Pickering MPP Joe Dickson did put out a press release later in the day.
Parish also had strong words for Premier Kathleen Wynne, saying she has thrown Dickson “under the bus.
“He is done politically in Ajax,” Parish said, adding after this announcement, Dickson’s chances of re-election are zero to five per cent.
He said Wynne’s decision has shown “contempt” for the people of Ajax, and for quarter-horse racing.
Ajax is going to court on Thursday, April 12 to appeal an Ontario Municipal Board ruling issued last year that supported the Durham Live proposal.
Parish has great concerns for traffic gridlock along Bayly St. in Ajax as a result of a casino being build at Bayly and Church Sts., and said it will destroy Pickering Village.
“We are not satisfied with any of these things and we will fight all of these matters as long and as hard as necessary,” he said.
In his statement, Dickson said, “I’m deeply saddened and disappointed by this decision. I was one of the strongest proponents of bringing the slots to Ajax Downs back in 2006 with owner Norman Picov, as I knew that the revenues would benefit my municipality of Ajax and support the quarter-horse racing track.”
Dickson added, “I promised our community that if Durham Live was the successful project, I would fight for three main priorities — that no local jobs are lost, support for the quarter-horse racing industry continues, and the Durham Region benefits from a new revenue sharing agreement with the host municipality.
“I have been assured by OLG and the service provider that all OLG employees (about 300) currently at Ajax Downs will be transferred over to the new facility,” he noted.
“I want to thank Mayor Ryan for his immediate commitment toward revenue sharing with all of the Durham Region. The region’s share of millions of new dollars from this project will mean better social services for all our residents. Additional investments in assisted housing and seniors necessities, as well as infrastructure are always needed.”
Pickering announced it expects annual revenue as the host community from the facility would be about $20 million a year. Of that, 30 per cent, or $6 million, would be given to Durham Region annually. Pickering is suggesting a portion of the funds be given to social housing “in order to secure matching funding from the senior levels of government.”
Ajax has been getting as much as $7 million annually as the host community.
Also, two per cent of revenues will be shared with the local quarter-horse industry “but will need to meet with industry representatives first in order to better understand their needs,” Pickering noted in a press release.
“Based on an economic impact assessment prepared for the developer, Triple Properties, it is estimated that Durham Live, anchored by a resort casino, has the capacity to contribute approximately $1.3 billion in incremental annual GDP, over $625 million in annual total tax revenues, and create approximately 10,000 new jobs. It is this once-in-a-lifetime value proposition that has generated significant business interest across North America,” the statement noted.
Pickering Ward 3 regional Coun. David Pickles initiated the idea in December 2012 that Pickering was a willing host for a casino.
“At the time Coun. (Kevin) Ashe and I wanted to keep the option open for a casino, but we were almost overwhelmed by the positive response of residents and investors,” Pickles said, adding the city was quickly approached by interested groups.
“I recall taking enthusiastic potential investors, along with councillors Ashe and (Doug) Dickerson, around the city in my car to look at sites, including the current Durham Live site,” Pickles said. “Then the Apostolopoulos family, as the Durham Live group, came along with this great proposal that blew everyone away with not only a casino but a dynamic multi-use complex.”
Also on Tuesday, Rod Phillips, the Progressive Conservative candidate in Ajax, issued a statement, noting, “Today, the Liberal government left the Town of Ajax and the quarter-horse racing community facing more uncertainty with the future of Ajax Downs. Kathleen Wynne and Joe Dickson once again failed to communicate with the parties involved, instead hiding behind a third-party press release.
“Understandably, Mayor Steve Parish and council expressed their frustration with how they’ve been treated during this process.”