Posted on Friday, May 1st, 2015
MISSISSAUGA – Sheridan Park is the sleeping giant of Mississauga’s future economy.
It’s been in our midst so long that it’s easily taken for granted. It once epitomized the cutting edge of science and technology development in this country.
It opened 50 years ago, in 1965, after a number of major companies, including Abitibi, Atomic Energy of Canada, Cominco, Inco, British American Oil and Warner-Lambert, built large research facilities on huge, expansively grassed properties on 138 hectares (340 acres) of prime land just north of the Queen Elizabeth Way between Erin Mills Parkway. and Winston Churchill Boulevard in Mississauga’s west end.
It was one of the earliest campus-style research parks in North America.
The jewel in the crown was the Ontario Research Foundation located at the centre of the park— and built at the end of a grand entrance road from North Sheridan Way, featuring a broad boulevard that triggers the sensation of a promenade leading to a grand palace.
The park thrived as grants flowed freely from senior levels of government and private industries to fund product development that kept Canadian mining, petroleum and other companies in the forefront of innovation.
Over the years, Sheridan Park lost its edge. In 2015, it must now compete with numerous business parks which boast newer infrastructure, as well as important partners, in the form of universities anxious to pursue their research in partnership with pioneering technological partners.
A half-century after its birth and 20 years after it went into a development torpor, the sleeping giant of Sheridan Park has received its wake-up call.
That call comes in the form of the rather ponderously-named Sheridan Park Corporate Centre Land Use Master Plan.
The document, whose preparation began in 2011 with the financial assistance of member landowners of the Sheridan Park Association, is a comprehensive analysis of both its competitive challenges and future possibilities.
It concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at reviving the park physically, environmentally and economically.
The chief architect of the report is Tim Smith, senior associate with Toronto’s Urban Strategies Inc.
Before the urban planner took on the project, his impressions were formed, like most commuters, “by driving by it about a hundred times on the QEW. It always stood out as a bit interesting, because of the wide expanses and the unusual architecture of the Xerox and Shaw buildings.”
But when he drove into the park, he got a different impression.
“It struck me as one of those places out of the ’60s,” says Smith, who has also worked on projects in downtown Detroit, Oakville, Hamilton and at Cornell and Brock universities. “It felt like something of a previous time. It has an early post-war feeling, when the whole world was designed around the car.”
Several city councillors mentioned the same impression when the planning committee received the report in early February and sent it out to the public for comment.
Councillor George Carlson even joked that the park could be a stand-in for the set of the television show Mad Men.
“You can tell it’s of another era,” said Smith. “It’s not consistently designed. Some buildings do stand out, but it also feels like a half-finished office campus.”
More like half-empty at the moment.
While it looks dated, is showing its age, and is hampered by its structure of multiple private landowners who operate, plan and budget independently, Sheridan Park still has enormous advantages, Smith points out. Starting with its superb location, which is still one of the best in the GTA.
There is an appetite for change among key players. The international engineering and management consulting firm, Hatch, has considered building a third building in the park. The park still has numerous strong owners. Xerox only has a half-dozen research centres around the globe and one of them is in the park, notes Smith.
Another optimistic sign, pension fund companies, known for their acumen and skill in finding exceptional long-term investments, have secured lands in the community in the past few years.
And perhaps most tellingly, says Smith, “most of the owners really care about their properties.”
The master plan’s recipe for revitalizing the park starts with updating the zoning and official plan. The zoning is being “loosened” so that more general office uses can be permitted, although there must be a portion of each building dedicated to research.
The old restrictive zoning required 70 per cent of any building be dedicated to R & D, notes Ward 2 Councillor Karen Ras, who made the revitalization of the business park a key business plank of her platform in the October 2014 municipal election when she first won office.
Innovation was a key to the founding of Sheridan Park and the “innovation agenda” is a key to reviving it, Ras says.
“The environment is there but it’s really piecemeal,” adds the former president of the Mississauga Board of Trade and self-proclaimed champion of Sheridan’s resurrection. “It’s like a forgotten campground. We’re still missing the boat on how we’re helping young companies,” says Ras. “In redeveloping Sheridan Park we’ll be starting to fix some of those pieces.”
The road to recovery will require a multi-pronged attack, including something called a “cluster strategy” of new uses that feed and complement each other as well as physical improvements, such as the extension of Sheridan Park Drive from its current terminus west of Homelands Drive through to Winston Churchill Boulevard.
Still, the park employs 2,700 and physical renewal will include enhancement of its green infrastructure.
The final key element to putting Sheridan Park back on the economic map is promotion.
“Right now Sheridan Park is in the shadows,” says Smith, “but it’s unique and in a very good location. It’s not a park that should be going into a state of decline. It just needs more attention and flexibility.”