The provincial government is taking steps to cut losses at Ontario Place, while appointing a new advisory panel that will help determine the future of the iconic Toronto amusement park and tourist attraction.
On Wednesday, Tourism Minister Michael Chan told reporters that attendance at Ontario Place has fallen to just a fraction of the 2.5 million people who visited the park the first year it was built.
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"Ontario Place has been a drain on the government treasury for many years … it’s no longer sustainable," Chan said during a news conference at the legislature.
To that end, the government will close the portions of the park that are not generating revenue, while it tries to redevelop the site over the next five years.
Chan said the Cinesphere, as well as the water park and amusement rides, will be among the parts of Ontario Place to close.
The Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, the Atlantis Pavilion, the marina and the parking lot will remain open.
Closing attractions will save province $20M
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who was also present at the news conference, said the province would save $20 million a year by closing down the money-losing attractions.
Duncan predicted that the long-term redevelopment of Ontario Place would eventually lead to the creation of "hundreds of net new jobs."
But for now, the changes at the park will result in the elimination of dozens of permanent positions.
"We estimate there will be 48 permanent jobs lost in the interim, approximately 600 summer jobs to students," Duncan said.
The finance minister said the province intends to boost funding to its summer youth employment program to create an additional 600 jobs to compensate for the positions eliminated at Ontario Place.
Ontario Place is ‘not about the money,’ employee says
College student Danny Vitorino worked at Ontario Place for the past seven summers, first as an attendant and later as a maintenance worker. It was a job he first landed in high school and continued with while in college.
He was stunned to hear of the government’s decision to close down attractions for financial reasons. To him, Ontario Place is a park that is meant for families and children to enjoy, and not simply to make money for the province.
"It’s all about the memories, not about the money," Vitorino told CBC News.
Now he expects to have to look for another job, which won’t be an easy task in a tough economy.
"I worked at Ontario Place for seven years and what can I say now? There’s no job opportunities out there. I’ve been looking, there’s nothing," he said.
Tory says 'time to act' on park revamp
The government has appointed former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory to head the advisory panel that will look at ways to make Ontario Place into a popular tourist destination once again.
The panel is due to report back to the government in the spring.
Tory said the panel will be able to make use of a number of studies that have already been completed, when reviewing the options for revamping the park.
"There's been, I think, 11 studies and that's probably about nine more than there needed to be, and now it's time to act and get on with doing something," said Tory, who was not at the news conference at Queen’s Park.
"I want it to be excellent, a people place, something that will help to create jobs and enrich the cultural and social fabric of Toronto and takes advantage of what is a jewel of a location."
The provincial Tories urged the government to keep the park affordable, no matter what changes are made down the road.
"Ontario Place needs a facelift and probably more," said Tory MPP Peter Shurman.
"Let's give people something they really value and let's give it to them at a reasonable price."
Warren Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the government was not looking at the long-term benefits that Ontario Place could yield the province.
"There are profits to be made from entertainment, if the government made the investment," Thomas said.