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Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat takes on John Tory over the Gardiner

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Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat is vowing to tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, replacing it with a ground-level boulevard, after council ignored her advice as chief planner.

The “grand boulevard” option, as Keesmaat and other city builders, planners and advocates for the option have long called it, would replace the council-approved plan under Mayor John Tory to rebuild the 1950s-era elevated expressway and maintain the decked connection to the Don Valley Parkway.

Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, seen at an earlier debate, says she wants to see the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway torn down and replaced by a ground-level boulevard.
Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, seen at an earlier debate, says she wants to see the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway torn down and replaced by a ground-level boulevard.  (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR)

“This kind of a structure is really a relic of the past,” Keesmaat said, standing in front of the Gardiner on Sunday morning. “Forward-looking cities are tearing down their elevated expressways and instead creating new communities and new places.”

Tearing down the structure would unlock valuable land underneath through a shorter construction period and better connect the rest of the city to the waterfront, Keesmaat said. It is the first major campaign promise that sets her firmly apart from Tory ahead of the Oct. 22 election.

But it’s unclear what it will cost to renege on existing contracts and what the cost difference is between the two options.

The option to rebuild the Gardiner approved by the city would unlock about 7.5 acres of developable land, primarily city-owned, according to an earlier city staff report, valued at $72 million to $83 million.

Removing that portion of the Gardiner as Keesmaat proposes would create 12 acres of developable land.

Besides being the better city-building option, Keesmaat said, the boulevard remains significantly less expensive to build and maintain. She says the boulevard option will save upwards of $500 million.

Council ultimately selected what was called the “hybrid” option, which still involves a deck east of Jarvis St., but creates a tighter turn to allow some land to be made available in the east Harbourfront area.

When the original debate happened in 2015, an earlier hybrid option, including 100-year maintenance costs, was estimated at $919 million, while the boulevard was costed at $461 million: a $458-million difference.

The cost of the altered hybrid option increased to $1.053 billion in 2016 after design changes.

After the hybrid cost ballooned, staff put forward a new financing approach that brought costs to $2.3 billion for construction over only 10 years.

While the boulevard cost would have increased over time due to inflation, that cost has not been updated publicly by city staff since 2015.

The city has already signed contracts for the rebuild, including $3 million in design work that would likely be considered lost if the city switched to a boulevard option.

And, in June, a contract for construction of the project totalling $313 million was awarded to Aecon, with construction expected to begin this fall.

“In any scenario, it costs significantly less to build infrastructure on the ground then to rebuild it in the sky,” Keesmaat said.

She also noted the difficulty and cost of maintaining elevated infrastructure, as the city is now experiencing with concrete chunks crumbling off the Gardiner, requiring extensive repair.

The time savings for a small number of commuters would be insignificant, while the savings that could be achieved from the boulevard option are huge, she said.

During the 2015 debate, Tory repeatedly and misleadingly claimed drivers could save up to 10 minutes using an unrealistic study. The city, working to minimize delays, put forward a removal option that would have increased travel time, on average, by just 52 seconds. The number of drivers travelling west on the eastern section of the Gardiner during the morning rush hour, staff reported, totalled just 5,200 — a small percentage of all morning commuters.

Keesmaat was criticized by the mayor and those close to him for voicing her support of the boulevard option as chief planner during the original debate. Nick Kouvalis, again a key strategist on Tory’s campaign, tweeted in 2015 that she was “insubordinate” and suggested she resign to voice her opinion as a private citizen.

Now that she is, Tory’s campaign accused her of wanting to “make traffic worse for everyone — whether you take transit, drive or cycle — in one of the fastest growing parts of the city.”

“Ms. Keesmaat also failed to mention that the City of Toronto awarded a $313-million contract back in June to rehabilitate the Gardiner and its connection to the Don Valley Parkway. What will it cost to tear up that contract? How much is Ms. Keesmaat willing to pay to make traffic worse?” Tory said in a statement.

Keesmaat said the city can’t throw up its hands and feel like nothing can be done about a bad decision despite signed contracts.

“This is about ensuring we’re not throwing good money after bad,” Keesmaat told the Star after Tory’s remarks. “It would cost an astronomical amount not to reverse course on this, and we have a responsibility to the taxpayers in the city as well as to our children and future generations to solve this mess once and for all.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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