ORO-MEDONTE TWP. — Oakleigh Developments took a major symbolic step forward toward getting their Oro Station Automotive Innovation Park off the ground with Premier Doug Ford by their side, Thursday morning.
Geoff Campbell, managing partner of Oakleigh Developments, along with Ford and other local dignitaries congregated on the Line 7 North property in Oro-Medonte Township this morning to put the first shovels in the ground on the project, and discuss the progress that has been made on design since last year when a minister’s zoning order (MZO) was first granted on the land.
BarrieToday asked Premier Ford about criticism that MZOs may be used to circumvent the public consultation process.
“I totally disagree with that," the premier said. "I think what it does is drive the economy and creates jobs. Consultation... we leave that up to the municipalities. We don’t give out MZOs unless a municipality is asking for it. I’ve been a councillor for years. It’s their job to consult with the people and then come forward to the ministry and ask for a MZO.”
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark was also on hand for today's groundbreaking and spoke to BarrieToday about the MZO process.
When asked what he would say to people who worry the granting of an MZO could be considered an abuse of process, Clark said the public should be consulted before such requests even reach his desk.
“Every one we’ve accomplished for projects like this have been done with a council resolution, so obviously the resolution would need to be debated in open council,” said Clark. “This project was well known in this community and was acknowledged it was going to take years to be accomplished. The MZO was an opportunity for us to cut red tape and move it along.
“I’ve made it very clear as a minister that when it’s a job-creation project that will help a government priority, such as affordable housing, that we’re going to consider it,” the minister added.
However, Clark stressed that just because an MZO has been requested of the provincial government, does not mean it will automatically be granted.
“We have a number of requests from a number of municipalities and we’re reviewing them,” he said.
In an interview with BarrieToday, Campbell said the plans for the ambitous Oro-Medonte project have "evolved" through engineering since November.
“We have been going through functional servicing, detailed design and filing our site plans," he said.
Campbell says he’s still not in a position to officially announce the partners that have signed on for space in the project, but did say there are about seven on board so far. He said full announcements on partners is planned for the fall. He also said expansion of the nearby Lake Simcoe Regional Airport runway has brought in interest from possible international partnerships.
“That is putting more eyes on Simcoe County and Oro-Medonte Township, and is giving us more international attention,” said Campbell.
One partner he could confirm was Georgian College.
“The partnership with Georgian College is focused around curriculum,” he said. “It’s about getting students in here for co-op opportunities, and we’re looking to grow into other opportunities. We’re looking at integrating... the automotive business school, but also electrical engineering students working on EV (electric) cars, the innovation group looking at autonomous design... there’s a number of different things we’re looking at and educational opportunities.”
An FI Grade 3 racing circuit is also being planned for the site, but Campbell clarifies it is specifically for testing and is not intended to be a spectator-based facility.
“It is designed at a racing level of safety,” said Campbell. “We can run high-performance cars and test autonomous cars at high speed. It is a racing automotive circuit but its primary use is for testing and development.
“Some of the tenants that are looking at coming in here are race teams to have their home base garages here to they can work on the cars and test them on circuit before they go off to their races in the U.S.,” he added.
With more than 500,000 square feet of industrial space, the project will be a multi-use facility that joins an automotive business park with a motorsport road course and testing facilities. The complex will be home to engineering, education, design, supply and manufacturing businesses all centred around the art and joy of the automobile.
Campbell says with construction starting now, buildings are planned to start opening on the site in 2021 and the circuit planned to be open in 2022.
The park was granted a minister’s zoning order in November 2019 by the provincial government. The order granted a request to change the zoning on the land from industrial employment land, but for aviation-related employment only, to industrial employment land. To read our full story on the zoning order, click here.