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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.

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