Yesterday, the province announced plans to close most of Ontario Place while figuring out how best to revamp the property. What remains to be seen is how much input Toronto will have into the outcome.
Yesterday, Ontario Tourism Minister Michael Chan announced that most of Ontario Place would be mothballed for the next few years while a John Tory-led advisory panel decides what to do with some of Toronto’s most desirable waterfront property. Apart from the fun of speculating about what might end up there (casino? condo? tent city?), the announcement and attendant process provoke some thoughts on the delicate relationship between city and province.
The shutdown was inevitable: attendance had been in decline for years, and it was costing the province upwards of $20 million annually to run the place. You can try to upgrade your ’70s rec room with an air hockey game and an XBox, but until you replace the wood panelling and the purple shag carpet, the kids won’t want to bring their friends over.
The reboot of the anachronism-on-the-lake is expected to come to fruition in 2017, having started back in July 2010 when the province issued a Request For Information, inviting ideas for redevelopment (the elapsed time is only one year less than that from the announcement of the US Apollo space program until the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon).
City Hall, of course, has considerable interest in the matter. Not only could the property be turned into a big tourism driver for Toronto, but the City owns the adjacent Exhibition grounds. However, it looks as though the closure may have come as something of a surprise to the Exhibition Place board, who had voted only back in December to work with their Ontario Place counterparts in aid of integrating the two attractions more closely.
Whatever prior communication did or didn’t happen, city councillor and Exhibition Place chair Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) expressed his pleasure at the notion of a revitalized OP and the prospect of working with John Tory, who he hoped to hear from “in the next day or two.”
Tory waxed equally agreeable, saying “You wouldn’t develop one side of the street into something new and not talk to the people on the other side of the street.”
Perennial political bridesmaid Tory is a good choice to run the show. As former Progressive Conservative leader he has non-Liberal political cred, as former CEO of both Rogers Media and Rogers Cable he has business cred, and as a talk radio host he has, well, those other things. He’s also well-networked and well-regarded in both municipal and provincial circles.
Even so, it’s by no means certain that Toronto will get much input into whatever pyramid-building goes on down there. Ultimately the City of Toronto is, in the Igor-evocative jargon of political science, a “creature” of the province and subject to its whims. Whether we get a floating brothel or a scale model Taj Mahal made of popsicle sticks will ultimately be a decision made at Queen’s Park. And the province has more than once been fickle in granting its favours: it approved David Millers’ Transit City, subsequently clawed back some four billion dollars, cancelled the whole thing at Mayor Rob Ford’s (possibly illegal) request, and could be poised at any moment to dump buckets of money into light rail or scrap everything and buy us all personal jetpacks.
Ontario Place is a big, beautiful, valuable piece of Toronto real estate and Toronto history. It behooves Torontonians to make sure we’re actively involved in determining its fate.