Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport flights will cease as soon as 2015 for major redevelopment of the property, the head of its operating firm predicted Wednesday. Armadale Co. Limited, which owns 75% of the 170-acre Markham site, and Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited, which has 25%, this week announced a large business park will replace the airport.

“We’ll essentially be building a new town,” including condos, hotels, shops and restaurants, Toronto Airways Ltd. president Derek Sifton said.

Operated by Toronto Airways, an Armadale subsidiary, the federally-regulated Buttonville is privately-owned.

The announcement consists of a venture few people took seriously when the company announced the airport’s fate last year, Sifton said.

As for operations, including daily flights, a pilot training school, plus aircraft sales and maintenance, he said “we’ll look at a new location.”

His first choice for a future home for the 350 aircraft and up to 30 firms is Pickering.

The federal government acquired 18,000 acres there in the 1970s in a controversial, aborted bid to develop a major commercial airport.

Some of that land became greenbelt, Sifton said, adding “we’ll need to negotiate” for sufficient land. “We have a few options.”

The airport expanded from an isolated grass strip field with a single hangar in 1953 into a 170,000-flights-per-year commercial and private plane facility surrounded by homes, malls and highways. The majority of planes are privately-owned single-engine aircraft, with two owners operating 15-seat passenger jets.

Yorkregion.com reported the site’s value at $150 million.

Sifton would only say “we just can’t afford to be sitting on such a valuable property.”

With rezoning plus extensive design work required — all taking several years — until then, “it will be business as usual. We’re not looking to do another strip mall.”

The airport’s closing will “not be today or tomorrow,” Sifton said. “We envision development sometime within five years.”

Cadillac Fairview executive vice-president John Sullivan called the project “a world-class development.”

In a statement, he said the property’s scale and location east of Hwy. 404 on 16th Ave., plus the move to mixed-use and higher density, should “attract significant employment uses ... through the creation of a vibrant 24 hour mixed-use community.”

Redevelopment, expected to generate 20,000 jobs, was announced last fall after the Greater Toronto Airports Authority cancelled a $1.6-million annual financing agreement.

Toronto-based Cadillac Fairview is one of North America’s top investors, owners and managers of commercial real estate, including shopping centres.

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