New Ontario Place should combine park space with residential: report
Published Thursday, July 26, 2012 10:15AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 26, 2012 12:25PM EDT
The Ontario Place redevelopment should emphasize park space that is open to the public year-round without charging admission and the return of the Forum concert venue, according to a report released Thursday.
The long-awaited report is the result of six months of research and consultations by the panel, headed by former Ontario PC leader John Tory, after the government announced it would be temporarily closing parts of Ontario Place as a cost-saving measure in February.
Besides the park space, the new site should have a new forum site, similar to a free public amphitheatre that once existing on the site, but has since been removed, Tory told reporters at a press conference.
It should also have residential living space, possibly on the western edge of the park, he said.
Though, Tory emphasized that any new development should leave open sight lines to the waterfront and the residential space should only be a small part of the park redevelopment.
A casino and a wall of condos have both been ruled out, Tory said.
“We said, not a wall of condos,” Tory said.
Tory said it will be up to the government, however, to regulate exactly what residential developers build on the land.
Whatever goes in, Tory said any new structures should focus on architectural excellence and green, sustainable building design.
As for the cost of the redevelopment, Tory said it will depend on which portions of the plan the government chooses to move forward with, but he said philanthropy and private partnerships will have to play a role.
Tory presented the report to Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Chan Thursday morning, who will review it himself. The site will also need an environmental assessment before any development takes place.
In a statement released Thursday, Chan said he looked forward to reviewing the recommendations outlined in the report.
Another main thrust of any redevelopment has to include better and more accessible transit to the site, possibly taking the existing streetcar that drops passengers off at one end of the park and looping it through the park.
Transit won’t come cheap, though, Tory admitted, saying that extending the existing streetcar from the northeast corner of the park, where it currently drops passengers off, could cost as much as $100 million.
“If you want people to live here, if you want people to work here, if you want people to study here, if you want this to be alive, all the year round, them you’ve got to have proper public transportation access to it,” Tory said.
He suggested that the city could possibly levy part of the transit costs from developers.
While much of the park will change under the plan unveiled Thursday, some aspects should remain, including the iconic white-dome Cinesphere and the pods, through the 40-year-old buildings will need upgrades.
“It will never become part of our heritage if we tear it down after 40 years,” Tory said.
Another wall of condos?
Critics were already taking aim at the report shortly after it was released.
NDP MPP Rosario Marchese, who represents the riding that includes Ontario Place, said he agreed with many aspects of the report, but took issue with the fact that it recommends 10-15 per cent of the space be used for residential construction.
“There will be condominiums and they will be high-rises, they will not be low-rises,” Marchese told CP24.
He also said the report focused too much on the public sector as a main funding source, which would take the power out of the hands of the government.
The Ontario government announced in February that the money-losing park would shut down temporarily until 2017 while an expert panel looked at ways to redevelop the 39-hectare site situated on a prime piece of real estate along Toronto’s western waterfront.
Annual attendance at Ontario Place was as high as 2.5 million per year when the park opened in 1971, but had dropped to about 300,000 in recent years.