Sources said three companies, including a Quebec outdoor recreation firm and a European spa and water park provider, have been selected to revive Ontario Place after a closed-door bidding process.
Sources said the Ontario government plans to award part of a 63-hectare site off the coast of Toronto to Acorrecreo, Quebec, along with Austrian company Therm. Live Nation, which runs the performance venue at Ontario Place, will have an expanded role.
A formal announcement from the government may be made earlier this month. The Granthshala is not identifying its sources who have direct knowledge of the bidding process, as they are not authorized to speak publicly.
Provincial Tourism Minister Lisa McLeod, who has promised big news soon at Ontario Place in recent months, did not comment when arrived Wednesday evening.
Taken together, the companies’ choice harks back to the earlier days of Ontario Place, offering a more sophisticated take on outdoor activities, year-round live entertainment, and a water park with both a beach and spa facilities .
But even though the overall vision finds public acceptance, the lack of community input in the process has led to increased hacking.
“There is no public consultation,” said Suzanne Kavanaugh, founder of the grassroots group Ontario Places for All.
“Every time there’s a new minister or a new adviser, we write a nice letter saying ‘Welcome and we’d love to talk to you’ … and we have yet to hear anything.”
Ms Kavanaugh and other local activists say they want more of Ontario Place to be turned into parkland and open to the public, without visitors having to pay to enjoy the site.
The three winning firms did not respond to inquiries about their plans.
The future of Ontario Place has largely been kept under wraps as the province has kept the dying amusement park location – which opened in 1971 and closed in 2011 – for bids from the private sector. A similar process under the previous Liberal government and the transfer of power to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives before the 2018 election involved many of the same bidders.
As Premier, Mr. Ford has taken an active interest in Ontario Place. The waterfront has attracted his attention since his days in local politics.
During Mr. Ford’s brother, Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor, when Premier was Toronto City Councilor, he supported a waterfront casino, and a failed plan to install a Ferris wheel, a monorail and a “megamall” in Port Lands. carried forward.
As Premier, Mr. Ford oversaw the resumption of the bidding process for Ontario Place. After months of speculation about their plans for the site, the government ruled out condos or any new casinos in 2019.
Mayor John Tory is also opposing a casino there. In 2012, before running for mayor, he chaired an advisory committee that urged the province to give part of the site to condos. In May, Mr. Tory and the rest of the city council voted against residential development at Ontario Place.
The province said in 2019 that it planned to sell the land, not to lease it. The open-ended process allowed the government to negotiate with any single bidder, mix elements of different bids, or reject everything that came forward.
One of the proposals was from Ken Tanenbaum, a leading developer in Toronto. His idea was to move the Ontario Science Center to the site and surround it with parkland. In 2019, The Granthshala reported that Carl DeMarco, a Toronto-based businessman and former World Wrestling Entertainment executive, was among the bidders for the site. But his exact plans were never revealed.
Provincial documents called for development proposals issued in 2019 said the new Ontario Place should be a “great destination that will attract local and international visitors” and that it would include “entertainment and sports facilities, public spaces and parks, retail and may include landmarks such as entertainment attractions.”
Documents point to a new line that will end near Ontario Place in the redesign of Toronto’s subway plans as a key transit link by Mr. Ford. While they say no taxpayer subsidy is on offer, bid documents also promise that the government will first submit Ontario Place – which lacks water and sewage and other services for massive buildings – ready for development. Huh.
The cost alone at the time, when the Liberals were in power, was a $100 million budget, according to documents by then.
Despite Mr. Ford’s interest in this file, progress towards bid selection has been slow. Earlier this year, the government announced that it had hired former Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders as a special adviser on the redevelopment of Ontario Place for up to $171,500 per year.
The province had previously decided that the architecturally significant CineSphere, a bulbous movie theater, and “pods” located above the water did not matter which companies were chosen.
If the winning bidders wish to reduce or wipe out the recently completed Trillium Park on the east side of the grounds, they must replace the 7.5 acres of parkland elsewhere on the site. A marina should also be maintained.
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