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cityscape

Thinking About Rethinking Ontario Place

Residents and experts gather to talk about a new new plan for poor, crumbling Ontario Place.

A year after the provincial government closed Ontario Place, the site’s future is still up for debate. While the recommendations of the official report issued by John Tory’s advisory panel last July continue to be reviewed, a group of architects, designers, and urban planners has devised an unofficial alternative vision for revitalizing the former amusement park. It’s called “Rethinking Ontario Place.”

Monday night, during a two-hour session at Innis Town Hall, residents and experts met to talk about that alternative vision. The basis of the discussion was 12 recommendations developed at a December design charrette, co-hosted by the Design Industry Advisory Committee, the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

MPI research director Kevin Stolarick outlined each recommendation before handing the floor over to two panels: one devoted to urban design, the other devoted to critiquing the charrette’s ideas.

Designer Allan Guinan, architect Tom Bessai, and landscape architect Bryce Miranda discuss a future layout for Ontario Place.

Designer Allan Guinan, architect Tom Bessai, and landscape architect Bryce Miranda discuss a future layout for Ontario Place.

The overall vision to come out of the charrette was equal parts faddish ideas (innovation centres for research and business incubation), heritage preservation (restoring the existing buildings), nostalgia (bringing back the Forum and the free festivals and cultural programming it offered during the 1970s), improved infrastructure (better cycling, pedestrian, and transit links), and opposition to a casino at Exhibition Place. A key point that everyone agreed on was that the redevelopment process needs to be slowed down before any rash decisions are made.

Martin Prosperity Institute research director Kevin Stolarick outlines the anti-Exhibition Place casino recommendation.

Martin Prosperity Institute research director Kevin Stolarick outlines the anti-casino recommendation.

The critics’ panel disagreed with some of the charrette’s recommendations. The nostalgia factor in particular seemed to be lost on those—like economist Jim Stanford or Daniels Faculty of Architecture dean Richard Sommer—who had never experienced Ontario Place during its heyday. Sommer noted that festivals once ideal for Ontario Place have now spread around the city, while a recommendation for a diverse range of food stalls would compete with food trucks at venues like the Evergreen Brick Works and the Distillery District. He also lashed out at the anti-casino tone of the meeting. “Under what authority, and in whose interest, do you so quickly reject housing and a casino?” he wondered aloud.

Cinesphere, sometime between 1972 and 1989. Picture by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 9, Item 29.

The Cinesphere, sometime between 1972 and 1989. Picture by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 9, Item 29.

Condos were a hot topic. Stanford argued against building them. He feels that a “day of reckoning” is coming for the local market, and that the government would be jumping in at a bad time. Sommer believes there’s nothing wrong with housing on the site. He pointed to the abandoned Harbour City project (also developed by Ontario Place architect Eb Zeidler) which would have placed residential areas on islands near Ontario Place. Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume, also on the panel, said he has no reservations about condos as long as they’re well designed.

“The discussion about what to do with Ontario Place is much too premature,” Hume said. “What we have to focus on now is how do we do it.” He suggested that Ontario Place should be handed over to Waterfront Toronto, who he felt would have a better grasp on what to do with the site than the City or the province.

Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist, unless otherwise indicated.

Comments

  • scottld

    Richard Sommer sounds like a moron. How about a park stupid?

  • Matthew

    Ontario Place has been around for generations, since my parents were Kids. Building Condos is a ridiculous idea, There are already so many condo’s being built in Toronto and a Casino should not be considered either. There are so many memories that have been made at Ontario Place, why not just expand the park? Or upgrade the rides? Make it so its an attraction all ages can enjoy like it used to be

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

      Agreed. I’d like to see Ontario Place continue as it has been also.

    • http://twitter.com/candleflame3 PlantinMoretus

      I’m OK with Ontario Place changing, but it must remain a public space. No condos! No casino!

  • dsmithhfx

    “Under what authority, and in whose interest, do you so quickly reject housing and a casino?”

    WTF?

    • Sherryo

      Ontario Place was built by taxpayers money and dedicated to the people of Ontario – past, present and FUTURE, it belongs to all the people of Ontario, not just a few millionaires who could afford to buy the condos built there, so I say under the authority of the people and in the interest of the people of Ontario we should reject housing and casinos.

  • geo

    Let ‘s back up the debate to Why was ontario place closed at all . can someone tell me why we closed this wonderful place? mr hume you are wrong about handing it over to waterfront toronto they have done nothing to merit this . look at the cities all over the world for ideas , valencia ,chicago just to name afew .

    • http://www.facebook.com/pedro.marques Pedro Marques

      You clearly are out of the loop. Waterfront Toronto is an award winning agency who has done an incredible job of preparing our waterfront for a sustainable future.
      I don’t blame you and others for not following along though. The pace of development on the waterfront is intentionally long term. It’s like watching a tree grow. You don’t see it change if you stare at it. But it grows nonetheless and future generations will enjoy its fruits.
      I agree with Hume on this. Hand Ontario Place to Waterfront Toronto to integrate it in the overall vision of the waterfront revitalization. It would be in safe and capable hands.