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No Evidence to Suggest Ontario Place Was Shut Down on a Lie

A Star column says Ontario Place was in fine financial shape before the province shut it down, but the numbers tell a different story.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dcronin/5794480893/"}Dan Cronin^{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

If you happened to be reading the Star‘s editorial page on Thursday, you would have come across a puzzling column by Bob Hepburn on the province’s decision to shut down most of Ontario Place’s operations and redevelop its grounds.

When Queen’s Park announced the closure in February, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan told reporters that the move would save the province about $20 million a year. But Hepburn, citing “documents obtained by the Star,” accuses the province of exaggerating the likely financial boon. He pegs the park’s actual yearly deficit at “between $2 million and $3 million.” He also says that attendance was up 89 per cent in 2011 over the previous year, and that revenues were also up. He ends by wondering whether the province might have closed Ontario Place down solely to clear the way for a casino or for luxury condos.

What Hepburn never mentions in his column is that admission to Ontario Place was free in 2011, as part of a 40th-anniversary promotion. Also, the park extended its season by two months. It’s overwhelmingly likely that there was a one-time attendance boost because of those things, but that wouldn’t be a real indicator of overall business health.

Over at OpenFile, John Michael McGrath has the rest of the story. Using numbers obtained from the Finance Minister’s office, he charts Ontario Place’s actual attendance and revenues over the past decade. His analysis makes it clear that the park’s financial health was trending downward, and that the province was spending increasing amounts of money to keep it afloat. Even despite the attendance spike in 2011, overall operating revenues were down.

Hepburn’s suggestion that the park’s annual deficit was in the $2 to $3-million range seems to be a true accounting of operating losses until recently, but figures from 2008 onward show a worsening financial situation. According to the numbers provided to OpenFile, the province paid out nearly $14 million in combined capital and operating subsidies in 2011, which was more than the park had received in any one year since at least 2000.

The planned redevelopment of the park’s grounds may not be to everyone’s liking, but if there’s any good evidence that Ontario Place’s closure was based on a lie, we haven’t seen it yet.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Of course operating revenue was down in 2011 – admission was free. Did they expect to make it up in volumes of people? They should have done a reduce admission price rather than free.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chandlerart Philip Chandler

    I used to work there in 2000/01 and the place was PACKED both summers… so I don’t know what happened after that would cause it to shut down. It still seemed to continue being busy. But I know they shut down a lot of attractions and pavilions. How did they expect to keep attendance if there’s nothing to see?

  • OP Visitor

    Sigh. Would be nice if Torontoist employed writers who knew what a balance sheet is. Ontario spent a lot of money on capital development in 2011 – they added several new rides and moved some things around. That’s Ontario’s choice and has nothing to do with the park’s operating budget. All those new rides installed in 2011 (many at the end of the summer) are sitting empty in 2012 with the sudden shutdown, which makes very little sense. Overall, OP is a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of a percent of Ontario’s provincial budget. The articles about casinos and condo developers sniffing around the place started several years ago, and keep in mind that provincial MPPs can accept corporate donations to their campaigns. It is extremely likely that OP is being auctioned off to the highest bidder at this point, the highest bidder being whoever is going to donate the most to the Liberals in the next election campaign…

  • http://adamgorley.blogspot.com/ Adam Gorley

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t many questions that deserve honest answers, like why did the government upgrade the park to the tune of millions of dollars and then shutter it before anyone actually got to use the new stuff.

  • Anonymous

    “if there’s any good evidence that Ontario Place’s closure was based on a lie, we haven’t seen it yet.”

    Maybe you need to look harder then. The McGuinty government has been caught out in too many shady dealings (ehealth, ornge, pre-election power plant cancellation, to name just a few), to lightly dismiss this.

  • Heads should roll

    The real story is not whether or not Ontario Place was closed based on a lie but rather in that this tale tells us a lot about how the Province makes decisions. Allowing Ontario Place to spend large amount of money on new attractions and upgrades in 2011 tells you that either that closing the park wasn’t on their radar or that they have no idea what their agencies are doing and could care less about where their money is going. The decision to close the park, as one reporter at the press conference said back in Feb, “was written on the back of a napkin.” One has to wonder why the urgency? Would it not have made sense to rein in spending at the attraction and allow these new investments time to bear some fruit? It’s not like they had a plan for the site. Minister’s Chan and Duncan repeatedly said that closing Ontario Place this summer would save the province around $20 million. Anyone want to make a bet on whether or not that comes true? When you factor in the costs of severance packages, property tax, utilities, contract termination penalties, and the wages of the staff still there, I’m willing to bet that Ontario Place costs us a much closed as it did open. I