Parkland envisioned for majority of Ontario Place

The majority of the revitalized Ontario Place on Toronto's waterfront should be parkland, says the chair of a panel charged with outlining a makeover of the lands.

Panel recommends Cinesphere, pods be preserved

The Ontario Place site should be free to the public and be open year-round, says a special panel appointed to provide recommendations on its revitalization. (Wikimedia Commons)

The majority of the revitalized Ontario Place on Toronto's waterfront should be parkland, says the chair of a panel charged with outlining a makeover of the lands.

John Tory presented his group's recommendations on the revamp of the now-shuttered amusement park to Ontario Tourism Minister Michael Chan Thursday morning.

"We see Ontario Place as a new public backyard for all Ontarians," he said at a news conference Thursday.

At the same time, private residences, a hotel and a resort complex are all part of the suggested plan.

The site should provide an opportunity for people to live, work and play in year-round without having to pay for admission, Tory said.

10 - 15% for residential development

The group envisions a "state of the art park" on the edge of Lake Ontario, with 10 to 15 per cent of the land being reserved for residential development. Early estimates of the cost of a new park range from $30 million to $50 million, the report said.

The report calls for retail development in the area, highlighted by "a major corporate or institutional anchor tenant." Similar models include the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in the MaRS discovery district and the Corus Entertainment building on the east waterfront near Sugar Beach.

The panel has ruled out a casino at the site.

A further possibility is the construction of a venue that could host a variety of cultural and community events year-round.

Tory said his group would prefer that any new development preserve the distinctive Cinesphere and pods at the site.

Area 'underserved' by transit

The group said the Ontario Place area is "underserved" by public transit. The report calls for increased transit in the area, the extension of Dufferin Street southwards and more pedestrian and cycling paths.


Funding details for the revamp haven't been worked out in any detail, but Tory said the report was drawn up with the assumption that there won't be significant funding from senior governments. However, Tory said the group envisions investments for the site from private interests and philanthropists who may want naming rights to some developments.

Any new developments on the waterfront, Tory's panel recommended, should endeavour to protect sightlines to the water.

"We didn't get into the form of housing, as in condos, townhouses, rental or whatever, or the build form," Tory said. "But we tried to make very clear what it is not meant to be in our minds, and we put it in a red box, and we put it in writing: not a wall of condos."

Any private development in Ontario Place should be very tightly restricted and Toronto city council must resist developers' efforts to secure higher-density projects at the site, added Tory.

But Toronto Coun. Mike Layton, who represents the ward, said he wasn't sure that could happen. Developers would be told to contribute to the extra transit, and would then demand higher towers in return, Layton said.

It is now up to the provincial government to review the group's report and decide whether to accept all, some or none of the recommendations.

"I look forward to reviewing the recommendations and responding in a timely fashion to how together, we'll revitalize Ontario Place," Ontario Tourism Minister Michael Chan said in a statement.

'It'll be for millionaires'

The NDP expressed fears the city of Toronto will allow high-rise development at the park to increase its tax base.

Only the very rich will be able to afford waterfront condos at Ontario Place said New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese, who complained the public park land would be sold off to the highest bidder.

"Residential is a euphemism for condos, which is what they want in order to make it attractive to developers," he said. "It'll be for millionaires. It won't be for people like most of us."

The Progressive Conservatives said they liked the idea of having some residences at Ontario Place, but questioned the need to build a hotel and resort complex as the panel recommends.

"That smacks of a casino to me, and I think people will see that," said Conservative critic Ted Chudleigh.

The old Ontario Place site was an amusement park for 41 years before the cash-strapped Liberals decided to shut it down.

The Liberals appointed a panel led by Tory, the former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, to find ways to breathe new life into the site.