TORONTO — Three companies have been selected to redevelop the Ontario Place theme park on Toronto’s waterfront, with plans for year-round attractions including a larger concert venue, pools, gardens and an adventure park.
Premier Doug Ford announced Friday morning that Live Nation, Therme Group and Écorécréo Group were selected from a 2019 call for development proposals.
The site, which first opened in 1971, was closed to the public in 2012 after years of financial losses. Ford's government has said it wants to make the space into an impressive attraction.
"It's really a real, true privilege to share our plans to reopen those doors and keep them open 365 days a year," Ford said at the site of the waterfront park on Friday, where he announced the plans with Toronto Mayor John Tory and Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod.
Officials say costs and timelines for the projects are still being finalized, but they expect new amenities may be completed by 2030.Ford said he couldn't provide an exact cost figure on Friday but said the province is putting "a lot of money" into the development so the new attractions will be affordable.
“As we roll out we're going to be able to announce that and everything is going to be transparent,” Ford said when asked about cost to taxpayers.
Therme Group is set to build an all-season park including pools, waterslides, sports services, botanical spaces and eight acres of free parks and beaches.
Live Nation will redevelop the amphitheatre into a year-round venue with an expanded audience capacity of 20,000 people outdoors and 9,000 people indoors.
Écorécréo Group will build an adventure park with obstacle courses, ziplines, climbing walls and other activities and will run rentals for kayaks, canoes and other equipment.
Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders, who was appointed special adviser to the redevelopment this year, will continue on the as province's "point man in the field" on the project, Ford said on Friday.
The province said bids from around the world were assessed based on concept viability, delivery certainty, costs and benefits and alignment with the government’s vision.
Public consultations will be held next month and continue into the fall. Planning and development consultations are slated for early next year.
Ford said Friday that key features including Trillium Park, the Cinesphere and the pods will remain in the new park. He also stressed that the redevelopment won't include casinos or condos, and that the land won't be sold.
"This will be a public place for everyone to come and experience and it will stay that way," Ford said.
Tory also stressed that the renewed Ontario Place will remain "the public's place."
He said the city hasn't yet seen the detailed plans for the development and looks forward to seeing them.
Critics on Friday highlighted the lack of transparency around proposal selection process, and the late timing of open consultations.
"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 Joe Cressy, who represents the Spadina-Fort Yorkward on Toronto city council.
The opposition NDP said the Progressive Conservative government showed disregard for communities by making such a major decision about the publicly-owned site before consulting the people of the province.
"Consultations with the public should have happened before decisions were made, not only after," said MPP Chris Glover, who represents the Toronto riding of Fort York.
"Ontario Place is an important heritage site that holds special significance for many Ontarians — and its redevelopment must be a project that includes the views, concerns, thoughts and dreams of the owners of this precious spot, the people of Ontario."
Community group Ontario Place For All questioned the purpose of consultations after the province already made its decision on the plans.
The group also raised concerns about the uncertain public cost of the plans and whether ticket prices for the new attractions developed by private companies might be too expensive for the average citizen to enjoy.
“These plans put Ontario Place totally out of reach of the ordinary Ontario family," spokeswoman Cynthia Wilkey said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press