Casino not among options Ford government wants for Ontario Place redevelopment

A casino will not be part of the development plans for Ontario Place, the Ford government said Tuesday as it officially put out a call to the private sector for proposals for revitalizing the derelict theme park.

The government-owned theme park has been closed to the public since 2012

The Cinesphere sits on the otherwise quiet Ontario Place grounds Tuesday morning, as provincial government ministers unveiled the next phase of the site's redevelopment. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

A casino will not be part of development plans for Ontario Place, the Ontario government said on Tuesday as it officially put out a call to the private sector for proposals to revitalize the derelict theme park.

Michael Tibollo, minister of tourism, culture and sport, and Monte McNaughton, minister of infrastructure, announced the government's "call for development" during a news conference at the site's iconic Cinesphere theatre.

The province is asking companies, teams of companies, consortia of various stakeholders and other potential partners to bring forward their best ideas for the site, which was closed in 2012 amid plummeting revenue and tight provincial finances.

The provincial government is looking for bold ideas, "a vision that celebrates our past, our present and inspires our future," Tibollo said.

The province will consider a broad range of ideas, from sports and entertainment facilities, to public parks and green space, to retail and recreational facilities, he said.

But, he added, "our vision does not include residential developments or casinos." The government is also not interested in proposals that require capital or operating funds from the province. 

When Ontario Place closed, the government at the time said annual attendance had fallen from 2.5 million when it opened in 1971 to about 300,000.

In January, the current Progressive Conservative government made its first call for redevelopment ideas.

Tibollo said Tuesday that the province received hundreds of ideas from potential development partners and members of the public. Tuesday's announcement is the "next step" in the search for a development plan.

Submissions will be accepted until Sept. 3.

The previous Liberal government was planning a massive public park for Ontario Place. The PC government, however, said it wants the site to be a world-class tourist attraction.

In a vote earlier this month, Toronto city councillors unanimously voted to list Ontario Place on the city's heritage property register.

The listing does not offer any legal protections under the Ontario Heritage Act and would serve mostly as a symbolic gesture that would signal that the city, which owns a portion of the land on the site, hopes to see elements of Ontario Place preserved.

At their press conference, Tibollo and McNaughton said the government will "work collaboratively" with Toronto Mayor John Tory and the city to find the best ideas for the site.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Tibollo, right, and Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton said Tuesday that plans for Ontario Place do not include a casino or residential development. (CBC)

Tory told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday that the city wasn't consulted about the call for development, and expressed his frustration to McNaughton in an early morning phone call.

"I made it very clear to him…consultation and collaboration means real consultation and collaboration, and it would have been better if we could have had a longer conversation about this [request for proposals] rather than being notified of it," Tory said. "So I'm hopeful he got that message and that this will be different."

Coun. Joe Cressy issued a statement Tuesday morning, saying he is "deeply concerned" that the province "is rushing forward with its own plans, despite the City of Toronto's ownership over part of the lands."

He noted that council is calling for a collaborative process that includes city priorities, such as integrated transit planning and expanded parkland.

Community group Ontario Place for All, which advocates for maintaining public access to the site, criticized the province's appeal to private development, suggesting it will close off the park and destroy major landmarks.

"If the government succeeds with this wholesale destruction of Ontario Place [it] could be turned into a gated entertainment community, accessible only to those who can afford to pay," Cynthia Wilkey, a member of the group's steering committee, said in a news release.

McNaughton said Tuesday that he had a "great conversation" with Tory and pledged that there will be "lots of consultation" as the project moves along.

"This is important that we work together to get this right," McNaughton said.

The provincial ministers said nearby Exhibition Place is not part of the overall redevelopment plan.

While they would not commit to the Cinesphere remaining at the site, they did say the Budweiser Stage concert space will be preserved.

Watch the history of Ontario Place:

Ontario Place then and now

3 years ago
Duration 2:45
How Ontario Place has evolved since 1971. 2:45


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