Provincial government set to make announcement about Toronto’s Ontario Place

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Province calls for plans to redevelop Ontario Place
Province calls for plans to redevelop Ontario Place – May 28, 2019

The provincial government is set to make an announcement about Ontario Place amid reports multiple companies have been chosen to redevelop the site.

According to a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford, Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Minister Lisa MacLeod and Toronto Mayor John Tory will be unveiling details at 10 a.m. on Friday. Senior bureaucrats were also scheduled to provide a briefing to reporters just ahead of the formal announcement.

Global News attempted to get more information about Friday’s announcement, but no further information was released Thursday evening.

However, a recent report by The Globe and Mail said three corporations, including a recreation firm from Quebec, won a bid process for control of the 155-acre site. Global News wasn’t able to independently confirm the details contained in the report.

Read more: Ford government looking for global partners to redevelop Ontario Place, casino off the table

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Located south of Lake Shore Boulevard West and Exhibition Place, the iconic attraction site opened in 1971 but was shuttered in 2012 due to falling revenues and tight provincial finances. At that time, the government said attendance fell to about 300,000 from a peak of around 2.5 million.

The Cinesphere was renovated in recent years and continues to operate year-round, showcasing films. Also, a 240-slip marina is open for use between May and October. More recently, the site has hosted festivals and drive-in events.

The Budweiser Stage, a 16,000-guest venue used for concerts, was also not subject to redevelopment and continues to be operated by Live Nation. Government officials previously said they intended to maintain three hectares of park land.

Trillium Park was opened at Ontario Place in 2017, five years after it had closed, and was connected to the city by the William G. Davis recreational trail, named after Ontario’s premier the year Ontario Place first opened.

Various proposals have been floated since its closure, including a year-round waterpark with a retractable roof, a casino complex and hotel, as well as residential development.

The areas that the government is proposing to redevelop include the mainland, the islands, the pods and the Cinesphere.

Read more: Indigenous learning centre opens for summer at Ontario Place

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Previous government parameters ruled out proposals for any residential uses, proposals that require operating grants or capital investments for planning, design or construction from the province, or any land sale. Amid lingering questions about what would be allowed, the Ford government also eliminated the option for a casino.

Former Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders was hired by the Ford government as a special adviser to provide “technical expertise and strategic advice,” but details surrounding the exact nature of his work weren’t shared.

A news release issued on behalf of MacLeod in March said Saunders would be “working closely with the City of Toronto and Indigenous communities as well as stakeholders and businesses involved in the redevelopment project.”

“Mr. Saunders’ intimate knowledge of the diverse communities in Toronto and across Ontario will bring important perspectives to the project, as well as a level of expertise that will help turn our vision for the site into a reality,” MacLeod said in the statement.

Read more: Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders to be paid up to $171K per year as Ontario Place advisor

The release said Saunders “will be able to leverage his senior-level experience in a major organization, experience in large-scale transformation change management and in the execution of complex project management initiatives to effectively advise the premier and minister.”

According to information posted on the Ontario government’s website, Saunders was set to be paid $700 a day for a maximum of up to $171,500 a year in the part-time role. An order-in-council said Saunders was appointed on Feb. 25 and will serve until Feb. 24, 2024 at the latest.

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Those with the grassroots organization Ontario Place for All called on the government to keep the site publicly accessible and to host public consultations before changes are made.

They also wanted the area’s Indigenous heritage acknowledged and the site to be integrated into Exhibition Place, as well as existing recreational infrastructure.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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