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Toronto Star Nov 10, 2000, - by Richard Brennan, Queen's Park Bureau

Ontario to consider property sell-off Hospitals,
casino among 168 assets under review

The Queen Street Mental Health Centre could soon be on the auction block along with other psychiatric hospitals, jails, including the Toronto Jail, courthouses, OPP detachments, air strips and even the Niagara Casino.

The Ontario Realty Corp. (ORC), a provincial agency, has been given a list of 168 properties owned by the Ontario government - worth some $200 million - to assess whether they should be declared surplus and sold. It will be at least six months before that process is completed.

``It's not about just throwing up a `For Sale' sign.

It's about doing a critical review of the assets,'' Brad Searchfield, vice-president of real estate and sales for the ORC, said yesterday. That process will determine a value for the properties deemed surplus and there is every chance that some of the buildings - including several downtown Toronto office towers - could be leased back to the province. Probably one of the most controversial, yet attractive sites, is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in downtown Toronto, which includes the Queen Street Mental Health Centre the Addiction Research Foundation and the Clarke Institute. The Donwood Institute, which is part of the centre, is not included in the possible sale.

``We were very surprised. We knew nothing about it (the review.) We weren't consulted on what the government plan was,'' said Jean Simpson, executive vice-president and chief operating officer for the CAMH.

While the three sites could be sold for millions of dollars, tenants would be protected for almost 60 years, Simpson said. ``Regardless of who owns or purchases the land, we are entitled to unencumbered use of the land and its buildings for 58 years if we chose,'' she said.

CAMH has a total of 450 beds for in-patients and serves some 20,000 out-patients a year.

Searchfield said over the next six months ORC officials will determine whether the properties have any immediate uses, long-term uses, or whether all or part of a property should be sold.

``Properties get on the list because on a preliminary review it appears there is an opportunity for it to become surplus,'' he said adding the ultimate objective is to ``free up as much real estate as you can get rid of and sell it for cash.''

About one-third of the properties will likely be put up for sale relatively quickly - usually vacant land, while another one-third will take longer, usually because the buildings and properties are still occupied, while still another third won't be put up for sale, at least not right away. `It's not about just throwing up a `For Sale' sign.' - Brad Searchfield Vice-president of real estate and sales for Ontario Realty Corp.

Properties under review include the Princess Margaret Hospital building on Sherbourne St., several OPP detachments, a government building and airbase in Kenora, the Niagara Falls casino, transportation ministry sites at Downsview and Stratford and psychiatric hospitals in Kingston, St. Thomas, Hamilton, London, Whitby and Thunder Bay.

The natural resources fire centre and airbase in Sioux Lookout, courthouses in Thunder Bay and London and even the Roberta Bondar Building in Sault Ste. Marie, named after Canada's first woman astronaut are also under review.

Jails that could be up for grabs include the Guelph Correctional Centre, the Bluewater Centre for young offenders in Goderich, the Toronto Jail (formerly known as the Don jail), and the Perth jail. Super jails are being built in Penetanguishene and Lindsay, which means fewer local jails. Two school sites in Cambridge, one in Richmond Hill and a fourth in Waterloo could also be up for sale.

The Duffin-Rouge agricultural preserve - a large parcel of land north of the Metro Zoo - is on the list as well.

The ORC has not had good luck selling properties lately. It has been accused of blowing two high-profile deals in the last year, including the Keg Mansion in downtown Toronto as well as property in Muskoka. Opposition critics have asked police and the provincial auditor to investigate.


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