Toronto

Future Ontario Place to feature water and adventure parks, revamped concert venue

The new Ontario Place will include an indoor water park and spa, a revamped concert venue and an “adventure park,” the province announced on Friday

Anticipated timeline would see new amenities ready for use in 2030

Ontario Place, a155-acre waterfront attraction in Toronto, first opened in 1971 but was closed in 2012 after years of declining attendance. (CBC)

The new Ontario Place will include an indoor water park and spa, a revamped concert venue and an "adventure park," the province announced on Friday.

It also said the site's most iconic features and greenspace will be preserved.

Three companies were selected for the redevelopment, including Austrian company Therme — which specializes in waterparks and spas — as well the Quebec outdoor recreation firm Écorécréo. The third company, Live Nation, already operates the existing music venues on site.

The trio will "help deliver an exciting, inclusive and family friendly experience that will play a key role in the province's post-pandemic recovery, both as a tourism destination and as a display of Ontario's strong cultural identity," the province said in a news release.

Specific designs and plans for each of the amenities are still being finalized and will depend on a series of forthcoming assessments and public consultations.

However some details of the highly-anticipated redevelopment were shared at a morning news conference that included Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and Chief R. Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

"As we mark the 50th anniversary of Ontario Place this year, there is no better time to bring this iconic destination back to life," Ford said in the release. The 155-acre waterfront attraction first opened in 1971, but was closed in 2012 after years of declining attendance.

Still, the province said it will be preserving many of the "key heritage and recreational features" of Ontario Place, including the Cinesphere, the pod complex, the marina, Trillium Park and the William G. Davis Trail.

The government said it is committed to working with the Ontario Science Centre to have science-related tourism and educational programming at the Cinesphere and pods.

A rough outline of the land each of the three companies will be leasing from the province to build new amenities. Trillum Park, on the east end of the site, will stay open to the public during the redevelopment. (Government of Ontario handout)

Up to 5M visitors expected each year

Therme will build an "all-season destination offering something for all ages, including pools, water slides, botanical spaces to relax, as well as sports performance and recovery services," per the release.

Details about costs to visitors are still being finalized, a representative from Therme said at a morning briefing for the media. Officials expect access to be free for children three and under, while the price for individual adults will be around $40.

There will also be roughly eight acres of "free, publicly accessible" gathering spaces, parkland and gardens on the part of the property being leased by Therme, the province said.

The new adventure park will include about a dozen "aerial courses" with options for visitors of all ages.

Meanwhile, the revamped indoor/outdoor Budweiser Stage Amphitheatre will have room for up to 20,000 people in the summer and nearly 9,000 in the winter.

The province said it eventually expects the reopened Ontario Place to welcome up to five million visitors per year. The redevelopment will include up to $500-million in investments from the private sector, the province said, and could create up to 3,600 new jobs in the City of Toronto — though no details were provided about what those jobs might be.

An artist's rendering provided by Therme, an Austrian company that plans to build a water park and spa at Ontario Place. (Handout)

Still a long road ahead

At the briefing, officials couldn't say how much capital investment from the province will be required for the redevelopment. The province says many more steps need to be completed before construction of the new amenities can begin in earnest — including a major site remediation and overhaul of existing infrastructure, which has not seen any upgrades in more than 20 years.

In a statement shortly after the announcement, Spadina-Fort York Coun. Joe Cressy expressed disappointment in how the plan came together.

"It is unacceptable and deeply disappointing that such important decisions about the future of Ontario Place have been made entirely behind closed doors, without transparency and broad meaningful input from the public or the City of Toronto," said Cressy.

The councillor said he hopes the province takes its "next steps with active collaboration, engagement, and respect."

As for the timeline, a comprehensive environmental assessment is slated to begin in November, while modernization of the existing infrastructure is expected to start in December.

WATCH | A brief history of Ontario Place:

Ontario Place then and now

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

The province will then need to undertake an environmental and heritage review process that includes several rounds of further public consultation, which will start this fall and likely extend into 2023, officials said.

Construction on the planned amenities is scheduled to begin in 2024, with completion sometime in or before 2030, they added.

The public will be able to continue accessing Trillium Park and The William G. Davis trail throughout the redevelopment process, officials said. They could not say for certain if the Cinesphere, which was operating as a movie theatre before the COVID-19 pandemic, will stay open.

A request for proposals went out in 2019, and the winning bids were picked from more than 30 submissions, according to the province. It said it opted to work with a mix of companies since no plausible, site-wide proposals were submitted.

The province will be leasing the land, provincial officials said, given strong opposition to any sale of provincially-owned land. 

During public consultations for the development, the province heard repeatedly that it should prioritize public access to the waterfront and the preservation of heritage elements, officials said. There was strong opposition to any sale of the provincially-owned land, as well as the construction of condominiums and a casino, officials added.

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