Toronto residents raise concerns about private spa at Ontario Place during community consultations: report
Published Friday, July 14, 2023 1:08PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 14, 2023 1:20PM EDT
The majority of Toronto residents who took part in public consultations on the future of Ontario Place “did not support the redevelopment plans for the West Island,” according to a recently released report by the City of Toronto.
Earlier this year, the city held community consultation sessions about the province’s plan for redeveloping Ontario Place. According to the city, nearly 900 people combined attended the in-person meeting held on April 15 as well as a virtual session three days later. Nearly 300 paper and digital feedback forms were also received.
“Generally, people were in favour of revitalization and investment in the Ontario Place site, however, a majority of attendees did not support the redevelopment plans for the West Island,” according to the report.
Most of the concerns involved the construction of a massive, private spa and waterpark on the West Island.
“People stated that the (spa) building was too tall, that the massing was not suitable to the site, and that the current building will obstruct views of existing Pods, Cinesphere, and waterfront,” the report read.
The proposed design for the spa, which will be operated by Austrian resort developer Therme, includes a 22,000 square-metre glass structure and a five-level underground parking garage.
According to Infrastructure Ontario, the spa building will take up about 50 per cent of the West Island.
“People were particularly concerned about the amount of energy required for heating and cooling a large, glass spa building,” the report read.
Another issue raised at the meetings was how the structure would impact bird migration and wildlife habitats.
Members of the public also pointed out that the number of parking spaces proposed for the site is “not aligned” with the city and province’s environmental and sustainability goals.
“Many people expressed that Ontario Place was a place of sanctuary and a place to connect with nature during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city’s report read.
“A reoccurring sentiment across consultation activities was that the current redevelopment proposal does not seem to consider the importance of how people used the site during the COVID-19 pandemic, nor how people continue to want to use the site as a public place of refuge and relaxation.”
The report indicated that there was a “general desire from attendees to preserve existing and create more outdoor amenity space at Ontario Place.”
According to the report, many members of the public felt it was important that Ontario Place remained accessible, public and free for all to enjoy and participants “consistently inquired” about public access during winter months.
“Maintaining and adding new affordable and free recreation activities on the West Island was important for current users,” according to information provided in the feedback forms received by the city.
“People suggested adding slacklines; improving water quality for swimming; expanding kayaking and canoeing options; incorporating family-friendly activities and children’s play areas; and adding winter activities such as ice skating.”
The city said the relocation of the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place was mentioned “several times.”
“Some people were in favour of this and others were against it,” the report read, noting that the comments “fall outside the scope of the City of Toronto’s development review process.”
Several people questioned what will happen to the site if the spa, which has been granted a 95-year lease, goes out of business.
“Infrastructure Ontario stated that they are not considering an alternative and that two thirds of the site will be publicly accessible, completely free, and will include site improvements and programming for all uses,” the report read.
The city said feedback received during community consultations will be included in its correspondence with Infrastructure Ontario, which submitted the development application to the city.
The application is expected to be resubmitted later this summer and the resubmission package will address the city’s feedback, the report states.
Members of the opposition and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow have spoken out against plans to build the so-called mega spa.
Speaking to reporters shortly after she was elected last month, Chow called the Ford government’s redevelopment plans “wrong-headed” and said she hoped she and the premier could “find common ground.”
“Maybe move the spa to another place…Move it up to (Exhibition Place) maybe,” she said. “Or perhaps even Etobicoke, where there is a lot of open land.”
A draft environmental study report on the Ontario Place redevelopment project was released earlier this month and authors of the report indicated that if the province does not reach an agreement with the city to transfer Toronto-owned water or lands to the government of Ontario, “expropriation will be required.”
Government House Leader Paul Calandra also said last month that the province “will not let obstacles get in the way” of its plans for the site.
“It is going to be an awesome place for the people of (the) province of Ontario, and we will not let obstacles get in the way,” Calandra said.
“We've seen this far too often in municipalities across Ontario and when they get in the way, we'll remove the obstacles and get it done.”