A big, new production studio complex is planned for Downsview with the promise of thousands of new jobs to replace those lost when airplane manufacturer Bombardier flies away.
Agreement was announced this week on terms for the long-term lease of land to California-based Hackman Capital Partners, an entertainment production real estate firm with billions of dollars in holdings, including major U.S. studio sites.
Hackman said in a news release that “subject to approval by City officials, our long-term plan envisions more than one million square feet of production and support space, with sound stages ranging from 20,000 sq. ft. to 80,000 sq. ft.”
That will make it one of the biggest studio complexes in a city teeming with film, TV and digital shoots to the point that some productions must be turned away for lack of shooting space.
Unlike many studio complexes it won’t be near the downtown core.
Like them, however, it will be on the subway line.
The deal is the first announced by a federal pension fund since it bought much of the sprawling site Bombardier is vacating and reached agreement with the City of Toronto to unlock 520 acres for a massive urban transformation of the area.
The Public Sector Pension Investment Board and its Downsview-focused subsidiary Northcrest Developments said the “plan, not only will create thousands of film and television jobs, it will open the door to a new media, technology and innovation hub at Downsview that we can build upon and grow for years to come.”
Coun. James Pasternak, who represents the area and supported the city’s compromise with landowners that will permit new residential neighbourhoods on what was designated “employment lands,” applauded the announcement of the studio.
“The site already has Downsview Park subway station and Sheppard West station, and, over time, the lands will see about 100 acres in new parks, plus residential and commercial,” developments, Pasternak said in an interview Friday.
“People who work at the studios will be able to live steps away. It won’t be a barricaded, segregated business that people can’t access; it will be part of the community.”
Pasternak said the studios will be built in two phases, with the first half-million sq. ft. built on land currently vacant, from 2022 to 2024, with productions starting in 2024 and eventually employing about 1,200 people.
Another roughly 600,000 sq. ft. will go on land being vacated by Bombardier when it finishes moving its production facility closer to Pearson airport. That studio phase will have about 1,350 “ongoing full-time jobs,” Pasternak said.
“Hopefully, by 2026, the full million square feet are in operation, producing television and movie production and employing about 2,500 people,” said the Ward 6 York Centre councillor.
Victoria Harding, executive director of the Ontario wing of the Directors Guild of Canada, said the new space is desperately needed.
“The more professional grade studios that exist, the more business comes. We’ve seen that in Vancouver and other centres,” she said in an interview.
“As somebody who worked in the crappy, old, lead-filled warehouses of the ’90s, I’m very grateful that the people I work with at the directors’ guild will have purpose-built studios that aren’t (former) contaminated manufacturing plants.”
City of Toronto film commissioner Marguerite Pigott said: “The vision of PSP Investments, Hackman Capital and (Hackman subsidiary) The MBS Group is aligned with Toronto’s in emphasizing innovation, sustainability and inclusive talent development, so we are thrilled they are making a home in Downsview.”
Cynthia Lynch, managing director of FilmOntario, a consortium representing 35,000 people in the province’s screen-based industries, said the suburban complex follows other studios announced for Mississauga and Pickering-Durham.
“It’s great news but it’s also important that we do commensurate workforce development, so we have trained crews to support the new studio activity,” she said.
“It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg; we need the infrastructure in order to attract people to the industry. So far, we’ve been able to keep up.”
Hackland representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.