Gateway folds casino plans for Western Fair District, signs lease for southwest property

A rendering of the proposed $140-million casino development Gateway Casinos wants to build at the Western Fair.
A rendering of the proposed $140-million casino development Gateway Casinos wants to build at the Western Fair. Gateway Casinos

Gateway Casinos has signed a lease agreement for a property in southwest London, leaving behind its plans for a $140-million development at the Western Fair District and starting from “ground zero.”

Rob Mitchell, Gateway’s director of communications and public affairs, told 980 CFPL the company inked a deal for land at the intersection of Wonderland and Wharncliffe roads earlier this week.

READ MORE: Gateway might pick a new spot in London for its multi-million dollar casino development

He said that the project is in its early stages, and that he could say little about the company’s vision for the property.

“I believe that the [N-J] Spivak cement plant will be vacating, and there’s the opportunity to demolish that and essentially look at it, for want of a better word, as a greenfield site,” he said.

Next to N-J Spivak is the used car lot, 519 Cars. Mitchell added that the lease agreement, signed with York Development, includes an adjacent property.

A Google Maps image shows the current location of N-J Spivek Ltd. and 519 Cars on Wonderland Road, just north of Wharncliffe.
A Google Maps image shows the current location of N-J Spivek Ltd. and 519 Cars on Wonderland Road, just north of Wharncliffe. Google Maps

Little more than a year ago, Gateway Casinos unveiled plans to London city council for a premium brand development at the Western Fair District, which included a hotel with 125 rooms, four hotels, expanded slot operations, and a promise of 700 new jobs for the city.

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But the private casino operator has been frustrated by slow-moving negotiations involving city hall and the Western Fair District.

“We’ve been at this for quite some time now, and we expected to have shovels in the ground about a year ago or longer,” Mitchell said.

“There just seems to be a series of issues that kept arising at the fairgrounds, last of which was an archeological study that revealed there’d been a church and a cemetery that required remediation.”

READ MORE: Gateway reveals vision for new London casino development

Mitchell said Gateway Casinos was “led to believe” it could be grandfathered into the site under existing zoning bylaws, because the Western Fair had hosted gaming for 20 years already.

“As it turned out, we had to re-apply for zoning,” he said.

Gateway would need to get zoning approval for a casino development on Wonderland Road, too. Mitchell wasn’t able to say how big the property was, or whether Gateway’s vision for the southwest property would resemble its intentions for the Western Fair District.

He also couldn’t say how much the lease agreement cost.

City councillor and planning committee member Phil Squire was quick to defend the city and Western Fair District.

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“I’m going to be blunt here, Gateway is doing a very good job of blaming other people or putting the responsibility for the decision they are making on other people,” he said. “They’re the company that has the gambling rights, they should be able to explain to people they’re locating where they’re locating, and that’s how I look at it.”

Squire noted Gateway had no obligation to locate the development at the Western Fair District, putting them in a better negotiating position.

“Really, this all started back when the provincial government decided to give the gambling rights to Gateway,” he said. “They put Gateway in the driver’s seat and put up new challenges for the Western Fair.”

President of the Western Fair District Hugh Mitchell (no relation to Rob Mitchell) said Gateway did not want to pay the lease designed to support horse racing.

“That lease is set to expire in March 2020, Gateway’s business model does not support paying that lease to us and supporting racing the way we want it to, so they made a private sector decision that’s well within their rights to try and relocate,” he said.

He hopes to hear from the province in the new year about whether it will continue to support the lease that Gateway did not want to pay.

“The racing industry has had lots of indicators from Premier Ford’s government that he will continue to support racing and slots at race tracks, so weeks ago we put forward an official request to allow this lease to continue on as a part of government funding for racing, so we’re anxiously waiting to hear from the government,” he said.

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Gateway has been running the slot operations at the Western Fair District since 2017. The current lease costs the company more than $6 million a year and is set to expire in 2020.