Reboot of Ontario Place begins this fall with urban park and trail

Watch above: Province unveils plans for $100 million Ontario Place revitalization project. Mark Carcasole reports. 

TORONTO – The province is beginning its long-awaited revitalization of Ontario Place this fall with the construction of an urban park and a waterfront trail on the east island.

Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, announced the construction Thursday morning as part of a $100 million investment to rejuvenate what was once a key Toronto tourist destination.

The plan includes a mix of outdoor and indoor areas featuring a live music venue, restaurants and a park – all without tearing down the sparkly Cinesphere and pods.

“We want to make sure people can come here year round,” Coteau said. “We want to make sure it’s built in a way people can walk through.”

Ontario Place opened in 1971 but closed in 2012 as annual visitor numbers dwindled to 300,000 from a peak of 2.5 million and the province said it couldn’t afford to keep the struggling attraction open.

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Earlier this spring, Premier Kathleen Wynne vowed not to build condos near the site on Toronto’s waterfront and Coteau restated the plan to keep Ontario Place strictly as a shared public space.

Although the plan is to complete the park and trail in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015, the province didn’t provide a timeline for when the entire site will be finished.

“The next stage of work includes an environmental assessment and land-use planning process, further consultations with Ontarians and soil remediation,” the province said in a media release.

Progressive Conservative tourism critic Laurie Scott questioned the money going towards the project and the scarcity of details regarding plans to add future venues to the site.

“I guess we can hope the trails will be done by the Pan Am Games. But when they don’t give you details and transparency, I don’t know if they are really able to get it done on time,” Scott said.

Scott is also concerned about the lack of transportation to Ontario Place and who will  ultimately foot the bill to bring rapid transit to the waterfront.

“Ontario Place is kind of difficult to get to,” she said. “So where is the infrastructure to support it? Are they going to rely on municipalities or ask the feds as they always do?”

“There is a clash looming between plans to open up Ontario Place to kids and culture while at the same time going full throttle on allowing full-sized jet aircraft to land only 300 metres away at the Island Airport. This is urban planning done horribly wrong. Music and jet engines don’t mix well. Kids and low-flying jumbo jets are not an ideal combination,” MPP Cheri DiNovo said in a statement.

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Two years ago, the Liberal government endorsed all 18 recommendations made by a provincial advisory panel on Ontario Place’s future.

The advisory group, headed by former Progressive Conservative leader and current Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory, proposed putting private residences, commercial space, a hotel and a research facility at the site on the Toronto waterfront.

With files from The Canadian Press

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