Buttonville Airport is a privately owned, public airport just north of Markham. It covers over 170 acres of the primest of prime suburban 905 real estate. The airport is a half hour drive from downtown Toronto and is just east of Highway 404, Buttonville’s strategic proximity to the rapidly growing GTA and the massive growth in air traffic over the last several decades helped transform the site from a ‘grassy strip’ to the largest, most dynamic privately owned airport in the nation. 2018 saw the airport achieve just over 44K aircraft movements, down from over 80K in 2014. In comparison, the large publicly owned Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto has aircraft movements over 125K. In 2009, the family who then owned the airport announced that they wanted to initiate a broad redevelopment of the site into a mixed use commercial, retail, and residential development. This was highlighted as a golden opportunity to unlock tremendous value for a huge tract of strategic real estate. The family sold in 2009, forming a ‘partnership’ with Cadillac, and the price has not been disclosed, but the value of the undeveloped acreage was believed to be worth between $100-150 million at the time.
Cadillac’s plan would have created 10 million square feet of overall multi-use space worth billions. In comparison, the total size of the Yorkdale Mall is just under 1.9 million square feet of retail space. 6-7K new residents would have been accommodated, generating tremendous property tax revenue for the City of Markham. At least a dozen mid and high rise towers were to be constructed. In all likelihood, the ambitious scale of Cadillac’s strategy would have made the airport family billionaires. However, the immense rezoning work required to approve the project was never completed. The deal was shifted off to the Ontario Municipal Board, but negotiations involved too many stakeholders and too much work. Delays kept pushing back the project. The uncertainty and complexity of the project proved too cumbersome for Cadillac and it appears the partnership have now agreed to wash their hands of the property and to put up the holdings for sale.
The sale will create opportunities but also challenges. Significant corporate jet traffic uses the airport and will have little room to transition to as Billy Bishop is limited in its traffic and Pearson is bursting at the seams. The sale will likely up pressure on the federal government and federal transportation regulators to finally and definitively approve construction of Pickering Airport. The GTA is growing to the extent that a second international airport will be necessary, barring that, Pearson will have to be rapidly expanded. Pickering Airport’s construction will intensify development in Durham Region, create many jobs, and spur additional construction, rezoning, and densification. The recently elected Mayor was strongly supportive of airport construction and won election with over 60% of the vote on a pro-build campaign.