Group claims Ontario Place redevelopment will use millions of taxpayer dollars for new spa

The advocacy organization Ontario Place For All has released details of an audit of the mega-spa planned for the site. Melissa Duggan speaks to Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner about the data, along with other provincial political news.

A grassroots organization opposing the Ford government’s redevelopment of Ontario Place contends that the mega spa slated for the site must rely on millions of public dollars.

In 2023, the Ford government announced its vision for the landmark, which included a new year-round stage for concerts from LiveNation, relocating the Ontario Science Centre to the waterfront property, and a large water park and wellness centre operated by Therme Canada.

Critics opposed the plans, particularly Therme’s spa and wellness centre. They argued that the Ford government plans were not transparent and pointed out that no environmental assessment is necessary for Therme Canada’s design because it is a private project.

On Wednesday, Ontario Place for All said it completed a review of the proposed Therme Canada spa’s financial viability, concluding that it would lose a significant amount of money and that the numbers “don’t add up.”

“Why is the Ford government gambling with over $650 million in taxpayer dollars,” wrote Norm Di Pasquale, Ontario Place for All Co-Chair.

In response, a spokesperson from the Minister of Infrastructure said they will “not be taking advice from a political activist group that has zero experience building infrastructure and bases an “audit,” by their own admission, on assumptions.”

They added the government has consulted with more than 9,200 people, stakeholders, Indigenous groups and the City of Toronto.

“Our government is bringing Ontario Place back to life, with construction underway. Our focus is delivering an iconic, year-round, family-friendly destination that will welcome visitors from across the GTA, the province, and the world,” continued the statement.

Location of other spas, Hotel X a problem for Ontario Place plans: Di Pasquale

Di Pasquale tells CityNews he believes there will not be enough business for Therme, given the area’s competing spas and similar facilities.

“Within a 10-kilometre radius, you can see that there are a significant number of spas around the Therme mega spa. In fact, the closest hotel is Hotel X, which itself has a premier spa,” Di Pasquale said.

“The key point here is that existing spas are located near where people live and work, making it very questionable whether you would go on a regular basis to a Therme spa.”

Ontario Place for All alleges that the projected taxpayer costs to subsidize the project could grow to well over a billion dollars, with the spa company investing only 30 per cent of the total required.

“[Ontario Place for All] is calling on the Ford government to cancel the project,” said Bruce Van Dieten, Ontario Place for All Steering Committee Member. “It’s a bad deal for Ontarians and an irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars based on a secret and flawed business plan.”

Ontario Place for All says its deep dive into the redevelopment plans was conducted by a group of volunteers with business and financial expertise. The group admits that conducting a thorough audit is next to impossible because the Ford government has not released precise financial information concerning the redevelopment plan at Ontario Place.

Therme Canada has been given a 95-year lease to build and operate a water park and what is described as a European-style bathing centre on the western part of Ontario Place.

A spokesperson for Therme Canada said they are focused on working with the Ontario government to bring the public a new family fun destination at a renewed Ontario Place.

“We understand these local activists are passionate about Ontario Place,” said the spokesperson. “People will be delighted by the expanded 16-acre waterfront park we’re building and the great experiences inside. We look forward to construction getting underway.”

Ontario Place opened to great fanfare in 1971 and was a popular destination in its heyday, but it has become dated and obsolete over the decades. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government finally shuttered it in 2011.

With files from Patricia D’Cunha of CityNews

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