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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.

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