The provincial government will adopt John Tory’s recommendations regarding the future of Ontario Place, a decision that has rankled local MPP Rosario Marchese.
The province announced on Wednesday, Aug. 15 it was endorsing all 18 of the recommendations in Tory’s report, which calls for the land to be reused to include residential, business, shopping and entertainment areas.
Ontario Minister of Tourism Michael Chan said the next step is to look into the quality of the soil, surface and water in the area.
“Ontario Place was built 41 years ago and environmental assessments 41 years ago were certainly different than now,” he said.
He added the government would later put out a request for qualifications from interested parties, followed by a request for proposals.
Chan said the two highlights of the redeveloped land would be a marquee park to provide recreational opportunities for those living in the area and tourists, as well as the theme, which calls for the area to be a place where people can “live, work, play, discover or learn.”
“The park will be there to realize the theme,” he said. “There will be business possibilities and maybe performance venues, whether that’s musical, theatrical or cultural.”
Chan said he hopes the request for proposals will draw plans that retain the iconic Cinesphere and the pods over the lake.
“I myself will try hard to have these two features (retained,)” he said. “Anyone who submits a plan to keep them will get a few credit points.”
The province’s endorsement of Tory’s plan does not sit well with Marchese, who wants to see Ontario Place remain in public hands instead of sold to private developers.
“What Mr. Tory proposed is literally turning over this public space into private hands,” he said.
Marchese is concerned more than the recommended 10 to 15 per cent of the land would be re-purposed into condo developments. He pointed out condos on the site would be limited in height due to low-flying planes flying over the area and was worried that a larger percentage of the land would go toward residential developments.
“As if we need more condominiums in that area,” he said.
Marchese said Ontario Place received a $10-million shot in the arm two years ago and noted that nearly 900,000 visitors attended the venue last year compared to 350,000 in 2010.
“By 2015, it would have been profitable,” he said. “Why not continue to improve what was created in 1972?”
Chan refuted Marchese’s claims, pointing out Ontario Place attendance has been in decline for years and only received a boost last year because admission was free.
“In 2011, it lost $13 million in operations,” he said. “Ontario Place is getting older and older and we’re spending more and more just to keep those buildings standing.”
Chan noted attendance has dropped at the venue from more than three million guests per year in its heyday to just over 300,000 at its lowest point.
“The fact of the matter is, Ontario Place is not sustainable,” he said.