Waterfront Toronto asks for more money, is forced to talk about pink umbrellas instead

Waterfront Toronto asks for more money, is forced to talk about pink umbrellas instead

(Image: mark.watmough)

This is how Toronto’s news cycle works sometimes: Waterfront Toronto makes the case for continued investment in the city’s shoreline one day, and the next day it’s embroiled in a mini-scandal about pink umbrellas.

The umbrellas in question are the ones at Sugar Beach, near the foot of Jarvis Street. They’re sturdy, sculpted umbrellas that are meant to last decades. Almost nobody had given their presence on the beach a second thought until Ward 34 councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong came forward this week with evidence that each of them cost Waterfront Toronto $11,565 to buy and install. The headlines pretty much wrote themselves.

That’s a lot to spend on an umbrella, but, as Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell pointed out to the Star, it’s not necessarily a tremendous amount to spend on a piece of usable sculpture in a public park. More important for people like Minnan-Wong, a longtime critic of Waterfront Toronto, is the fact that the comic disparity between “$12,000” and “umbrella” neatly sidelines (at least, for the time being) Waterfront Toronto’s new hobbyhorse, which is figuring out what to do about the fact that it’s running out of money.

A report set to go before city council’s executive committee next week says Waterfront Toronto will have spent most of its original $1.5 billion in funding by 2017. The agency, which claims to have generated $2.6 billion in waterfront investment, is asking for $1.65 billion in new funding from a variety of government and private sources. It also wants the ability to issue its own debt, which is probably the scariest part of the conversation for conservatives like Minnan-Wong.

And yet, without that new funding, city-changing projects like the East Bayfront LRT and the Port Lands revitalization could continue to languish for lack of leadership. And that would be an actual scandal.