The Ford government has chosen three private sector partners to help transform Ontario Place through the addition of a new outdoor adventure park, a massive indoor spa and water park and a expanded concert venue that will be capable of hosting shows year-round.

The iconic attraction once drew more than three million people a year to Toronto’s waterfront but it was decommissioned in 2012 amid declining attendance and annual loses in excess of $20 million.

Over the years there have been numerous proposals for the 155-acre site provincially owned site, including a waterfront casino.

More recently, the previous Liberal government had begun work towards creating a massive new public park called “Celebration Common”. It even selected a firm to design the park and released renderings of what it would look like.

But Premier Doug Ford scrapped those plans when he assumed office and launched a closed-door process to identify private sector partners to help develop the site instead.

During a news conference on Friday morning he announced that Austrian resort developer Therme, Quebec outdoor recreation frim Écorécréo and U.S.-based concert promoter Live Nation were chosen out of the numerous companies that submitted proposals and will now new help see through a new vision for the site.

Therme specializes in the development of massive indoor spas and will be responsible for creating a new “all-season destination” on the western portion of the site that will include pools, waterslides and botanical gardens, officials say. There will also be eight acres of “free, publicly accessible gathering spaces, outdoor gardens and public beaches” located directly outside the new facility.

Écorécréo, which operates a number of aerial adventure courses in Quebec, will be tapped with developing a “family friendly adventure park” on a plot of land just north of the existing Cinesphere.

Officials say that the park will include aerial obstacle courses, escape rooms and climbing walls.

The final piece of the redevelopment will be led by Live Nation and will see significant enhancements made to the existing Budweiser Stage concert facility.

Officials say that the revitalized amphitheatre will have 9,000 covered seats and capacity for another 11,000 people on its lawn. It will also be outfitted with mechanized exterior walls that will allow it to host events in the winter months for the first time.

“A redeveloped Ontario Place will not include casinos, it won't include condos and the land will not be sold, full stop,” Ford said in making the announcement. “This will be a public place for everyone to come and experience and it will stay that way. It will once again be the world-class destination that it was always meant to be and we're so excited for the next chapter of Ontario Place.

Ontario Place

Cinesphere will be maintained

The Ford government first issued a call for private sector partners in January 2019.

It gave prospective developers few constraints other than requiring that their proposals be for a year-round site.

As part of the new vision, the province will help develop new parks, promenades, trails and beaches along the public sites and while also retaining and helping to integrate the iconic Cinesphere and pod complex into the wider development.

The Trillium Park and the William G. Davis Trail, which were developed under the previous Liberal government, will also remain a part of the new Ontario Place.

Officials say that they expect construction on a revitalized Ontario Place to begin in 2024 and be completed between 2027 and 2030.

“The revitalization of Ontario Place has been a long time coming, too long but sometimes it is like saying good food takes time. Maybe to get it right you have to spend the time to do it,” Mayor John Tory, who in 2012 chaired a panel that made recommendations to the previous Liberal government on the future of Ontario Place, told reporters during Friday’s new conference. “For our part in the City of Toronto we only have one waterfront. We only have one waterfront and it is very precious and so the nature of the use of every single hectare of that waterfront is of interest to us and it is more than just a passing interest. It is a keen and abiding interest not just to the government of the city but to the people of the City of Toronto and I've said many times that I want to see something spectacular here at the sight of Ontario Place and I think we're well on the way to doing just that.”

Ontario Place

Costs unclear

The Ford government has committed to ensuring the site is development ready but on Friday senior bureaucrats speaking on background had no cost estimate for that work, which the previous Liberal government had pegged at $100 million.

Officials do say that the private sector developers will be contributing more than $500 million to the cost of revitalizing Ontario Place, though it remains uclear how much of the bill taxpayers will foot.

Ford is also facing criticism over the relatively closed door process to select the private sector partners with the councillor for the ward that Ontario Place is located in, Joe Cressy, releasing a statement on Friday morning calling it “unacceptable and deeply disappointing.”

The premier, however, defended his government’s approach while speaking with reporters following the news conference.

“For years and probably over a decade the people have been consulted, all the way back to when Mayor Tory was looking at it as well (as a private citizen). So we did listen to the people. They didn't want to put up a casino, we haven’t put in a casino, they didn't want condos, we aren’t putting condos, they wanted to make sure they kept the heritage buildings and we are listening to that was well,” he said. “So we're listening and we're going to continue to go out there and have consultation not only with the City of Toronto because they are our number one partner but we're going to go across Ontario because it is called Ontario Place.”

Public consultations on the new vision for Ontario Place will begin next month and continue into the fall.

Ontario Place