Canada

Three companies chosen to revitalize Ontario Place

The future of Ontario Place has largely been kept under wraps as the province put the amusement park, which closed in 2011, up for private-sector tender.

Sarah Dea / The Globe and Mail

Three companies, including a Quebec outdoor leisure company and a European spa and water park provider, have been selected to revive Ontario Place after a bidding process that has been closed for years, sources told The Globe and Mail.

The Ontario government plans, together with the Austrian company Therme, Quebecs Écorécréo, to hand over the reins of part of the 63 hectare property on the coast of Toronto. Live Nation, which operates the Ontario Place venue, will play an expanded role.

A formal government announcement could be made this month. The Globe does not name its sources who have direct knowledge of the application process, as they are not authorized to speak publicly.

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Provincial Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod, who had been promising big news on Ontario Place over the past few months, made no comment on Wednesday evening.

All in all, the choice of businesses seems reminiscent of the earlier days of Ontario Place, with outdoor activities, year-round live entertainment, and a more sophisticated version of a water park with beach and spa facilities.

But even if the overall vision meets with public approval, the lack of community input in the process has created problems.

“There is no public consultation,” said Suzanne Kavanagh, a founder of the Ontario Place for All grassroots group.

“Every time there is a new minister or advisor, we write a nice letter that says ‘Welcome and we’d love to talk to you’ … and we haven’t heard anything yet.”

Ms. Kavanagh and other local activists say they want more of Ontario Place to be turned into parkland and kept open to the public without visitors necessarily having to pay to enjoy the site.

The three winning firms did not respond to inquiries about their plans.

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Ontario Place’s future has largely been kept under wraps as the province put the dying amusement park – which opened in 1971 and closed in 2011 – up for private-sector tender. A similar process under the previous Liberal administration, involving many of the same bidders, ran from before the 2018 elections transferred power to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives.

As Premier, Mr. Ford has shown an active interest in Ontario Place. The waterfront has drawn his attention since his time in local politics.

While Mr. Ford’s brother Rob Ford was mayor, when the Prime Minister was a Toronto councilor, he favored a waterfront casino and promoted a failed plan to install a ferris wheel, monorail and “megamall” in Port Lands.

As premier, Mr. Ford oversaw the resumption of the bidding process for Ontario Place. After months of speculation about his plans for the website, the government ruled out condos or any new casino in 2019.

Mayor John Tory is also against a casino there. In 2012, before running for mayor’s office, he chaired an advisory committee calling on the province to turn over part of the site to condominiums. In May, Mr. Tory and the rest of the city council voted against the residential development on Ontario Place.

The province announced in 2019 that it would lease the land, not sell it. The open-ended procedure also enabled the government to enter into discussions with each bidder, combine elements of different offers or reject all submitted offers.

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Among the suggestions was one from Ken Tanenbaum, a major developer from Toronto. His idea was to move the Ontario Science Center onto the site and surround it with parkland. In 2019, The Globe reported that Carl Demarco, a Toronto businessman and former manager of World Wrestling Entertainment, was among the bidders for the site. But his exact plans were never revealed.

Provincial Development Proposal Documents issued in 2019 state that the new Ontario Place will be “a spectacular destination that will attract local and international visitors” and will include “attractions such as recreational and sports facilities, public spaces and parks, retail and entertainment.” could be sights. “

The documents indicate a new line that would end near Ontario Place in Mr. Ford’s redraw of the Toronto subway plans as a major transit link. While they say no tax subsidies will be offered, the tender dossier also promises that the government will make Ontario Place – which lacks water, sanitation and other services for larger buildings – ready for development first.

That cost alone was estimated at $ 100 million, according to documents from when the Liberals were still in power.

Despite Mr Ford’s interest in this file, progress in bid selection has been slow. Earlier this year, the government announced that it had hired former Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders as a special advisor on the redevelopment of Ontario Place for up to $ 171,500 a year.

The province had previously decided that the architecturally significant Cinesphere, a bulbous cinema, and the “pods” standing over the water would remain, no matter which company was chosen.

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If the successful bidders want to reduce or wipe out the recently completed Trillium Park on the east side of the site, they will need to replace this 7.5 hectare parkland elsewhere on the site. A marina also needs to be looked after.

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