Ontario Place and its surrounding attractions are getting a full-blown makeover.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Friday alongside Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod and Toronto Mayor John Tory, revealing a long-term theme park redevelopment plan.
Ford said this will present “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.”
“As we mark the 50th anniversary of Ontario Place this year, there is no better time to bring this iconic destination back to life,” Premier Ford said on Friday.
“By taking this first step with our world-class development partners, as well as the City of Toronto and Indigenous communities, we will deliver a renewed Ontario Place that provides year-round entertainment for all ages and interests. As we continue to engage and consult with the community, Ontario Place will realize its full potential as a long-term economic generator for the people of Ontario.”
The government is teaming up with Therme Group for the park’s redesign. Therme Group describes its vision as to create “the world’s most advanced well-being resorts, achieved by harnessing the complex interplay of nature, technology and culture.”
The province said once completed, “Therme Canada/Ontario Place” will be a family-friendly experience with options that appeal to everyone, including pools, water slides, botanical gardens to relax, and sports performance and recovery services.
Outside, people will enjoy more than eight acres of free, publicly accessible gathering spaces, parkland, gardens and beaches.
Ford 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.”
Starting in August, the government will launch the next phase of engagement through its website, providing an opportunity for all Ontarians to voice their thoughts and share a vision on how they would like to experience a redeveloped Ontario Place.
The province is also teaming up with American events promoter and venue operator Live Nation to revamp Budweiser Stage and transform the venue into a “modern, year-round indoor-outdoor live music and performance venue.”
“Protecting the iconic amphitheatre lawns, the new venue will have an expanded capacity of 20,000 in the summer and close to 9,000 in the winter, offering a unique indoor-outdoor experience with operable exterior walls to accommodate events, rain or shine,” the government said.
Completion of the newly-designed amphitheatre is expected by 2030.
Écorécréo Group, a Canadian-based company, specializing in developing original and adapted activities at large-scale public tourism sites, is also building what the government calls an “affordable, all-season adventure park for all ages.”
“This new, environmentally friendly attraction will include aerial obstacle courses, net-based aerial adventures, ziplines, climbing walls, escape rooms and many other activities. Écorécréo Group will also operate Segway, quad-cycle, canoe and kayak rentals at the site.”
The all-season park will be completed by 2024 to entertain over 500,000 visitors per year 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.
Minister MacLeod said the province “actively searched” for the best partners worldwide to work with on the redevelopment of Ontario Place.
“Our government remains committed to redeveloping Ontario Place in a sustainable way — respecting our historical and natural features while at the same time showcasing Ontario as the world in one province — a true reflection of our diversity and multiculturalism, while also showing respect for the rich traditions, cultures and heritage of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples,” she said.
“A modern, new Ontario Place will attract local, provincial and international visitors, and create unforgettable memories for a new generation.”
The Progressive Conservative government has been seeking to redevelop the Toronto attraction that was closed to the public in 2012 after years of financial losses.
Ford’s government has envisioned a brand new space and transforming the park that first opened in 1971 into an impressive attraction.
Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders was appointed this spring as a special adviser to the province on its park redevelopment.
In an update, the provincial government said Saunders will continue to engage with the City of Toronto, Indigenous communities, project stakeholders, businesses and community groups that have an interest in the Ontario Place site to “ensure all perspectives on these important proposals are recognized and considered.”
Mayor Tory praised the province’s move to redevelop Ontario Place.
“I’ve said publicly many times that I want to see something spectacular here at Ontario Place, and I believe this ongoing process will deliver that,” Tory said. “I welcome the fact that the proposals being unveiled today respond to many of the things City Council had asked for, including that Ontario Place should be a year-round destination.”
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.