First part of Ontario Place revamp set to get underway

The long-awaited revamp of Ontario Place is set to finally begin.
The urban park and waterfront trail will be built within the part of Ontario Place shown in the image above. The final design for both attractions have not yet been publicly revealed. (Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport)

The long-awaited revamp of Ontario Place is set to finally begin.

Michael Coteau, the provincial minister of tourism, culture and sport, said Thursday that work should get underway soon on the first phase of redevelopment.

That initial work will focus on a new waterfront trail and park, both of which would likely open in 2016.

Coteau said the province will then turn its attention to an environmental assessment and a land-use plan, which will be needed to work out the development of the rest of the site.

The minster said the province has earmarked $100 million for pre-development of Ontario Place.

"I think the opportunity to develop our waterfront here in Toronto for tourism, the economic potential is incredible," Coteau said.

Eb Zeidler designed Ontario Place decades ago. He thinks the government plan to overhaul it is a step in the right direction.

"Ontario Place started as a wonderful idea and then slowly got muddled up," Zeidler told CBC News in an interview. "“What it really should be is a place for Ontarians to be."

Waiting for renewal

The Ontario Place website indicates the park opened in May of 1971, after two years of construction. The estimated cost of the project at that time was $29 million.

The Ontario government announced two years ago that it would be closing the amusements at the park, which were costly to maintain and not drawing the same crowds that they did in their heyday.

An advisory panel was struck to consider the future of Ontario Place. It reported back with a series of recommendations for its revitalization.

Those recommendations included making the park a year-round attraction that is accessible and preserving its waterfront sightlines and surroundings.

The panel had also recommended setting aside a portion of the Ontario Place lands for residential development, but the governing Liberals are not on board with that particular suggestion. During the recent election, Premier Kathleen Wynne had pledged not to put condos on the site.

On Thursday, Coteau said there are no plans to pursue residential development at Ontario Place, as the space is meant for public use and enjoyment.

Coun. Mike Layton, whose ward includes Ontario Place, said that he was pleased to see that the provincial government had chosen not to build housing on the waterfront site.

"We have tens of thousands of new people moving to places like Liberty Village, the Fort York neighbourhood," he said. "That's a 10-minute walk from here and we need to have some kind of green space left in this city on our waterfront so that the people of Toronto can enjoy it."

Layton also said there's a need to improve public transit to the site, so that people can get there once it is redone.

With files from The Canadian Press and a report from the CBC's Genevieve Tomney