Ontario Place is about to meet its future: the provincial government announced this morning that most facilities would be shut down, in anticipation of a major redevelopment of the site in time for Canada's sesquicentennial in 2017.
The provincial government announced this morning that most of Ontario Place is shutting down while revitalization plans for the 96-acre entertainment park are pursued more actively. The marina, Molson Amphitheatre, and Atlantis event complex will remain open, as will parking facilities, but the remainder of Ontario Place—including the water park and the Cinesphere—are being decommissioned starting immediately. The announcement comes 18 months after the province issued a request for information (RFI), soliciting suggestions for how the complex could be redeveloped [PDF]. Specific plans are still at least a year away, but we do at least have a better sense of what the process will look like moving forward.
One key element of today’s announcement: the creation of an advisory panel, to help the government plan the site redevelopment. It will be headed by John Tory, broadcaster, former mayoral candidate, and Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance chair. Tory is also the former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, making him a savvy choice for the Liberal government, who will limit scope for opposition to whatever redevelopment plan they end up implementing by picking a former opponent to give them advice.
The key goal of the revitalization is to move from a summer-only schedule to a complex that is active year-round. Also high on the list of priorities are maximizing public access to the waterfront, ensuring strong transportation connections to the city, and ensuring that design standards for any new construction are “of the calibre to be considered city and provincial landmarks.” As noted in the original RFI:
The development of Toronto’s waterfront has been criticized for being uninspiring. Nothing exists along the lines of the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Harbour Place in Baltimore, or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. World-class cities have taken action to build unique attractions and iconic structures which re-energize their waterfronts and give them international recognition…
[Ontario Place Corporation] is seeking creative ideas that will reconnect the site to its surrounding communities, to promote the unique aspects of Ontario’s cultural diversity and to showcase the province’s excellence in education, green technology and innovative business practices.
While the search for revitalization proposals was public, today’s closure announcement wasn’t widely anticipated. However, revenue has been weak for several years, so with redevelopment plans picking up speed, it seems the government has decided it can no longer justify supporting the costs of keeping Ontario Place open in its current form. Approximately 600 jobs will be lost as a result, and the province expects to save $20 million a year.
One matter many Torontonians will have their eyes on: the future of the Cinesphere. The triodetic dome was built in 1971, and heritage activists have been calling for its preservation and adaptive re-use. The province is seemingly open to a wide range of suggestions, but possibly too wide a range, according to some. From the RFI: “Respondents are encouraged to present ideas that consider the full potential of the lands and property, regardless of what currently exists. Suggestions or proposed ideas can retain as much or as little of the current infrastructure as the respondent wishes.” Speculation is also sure to swirl around whether Ontario Place might wind up with a casino—the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has reportedly been looking into the idea of putting one in Toronto.
Ontario Place is one of the planned venues for the Pan Am Games (it will host the triathlon), so plans are for the site to re-open temporarily in 2015. After the Games, it will close for construction, with the goal of reopening permanently in its new form in 2017.