LILLEY: Ontario Place reboot promises a return to its glory days

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Imagine being able to ride a quadricycle with your whole family along the waterfront, take in a renewed water park, escape to the spa or see the latest concert at a revamped Budweiser Stage.


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These are all the possibilities as the Ontario government closes in on which proposals it will back for a renewed Ontario Place.

The proposals have the potential to turn the 155 acres on Toronto’s waterfront into the destination it used to be — or even better.

When it opened in 1971, the park was a wild success and it stayed that way for years. As a kid, my mother would pack us up in the station wagon and drive us in from Hamilton for a day at Ontario Place, an experience for countless other families.

Of course, the park was neglected over many years, the previous Liberal government attempted reboots in 2010, 2012 and 2016, but none of them went anywhere. The park facilities were officially closed in 2012 and since then, there hasn’t been much going on.

When the government announced it was seeking partners to redevelop the site in January 2019, Premier Doug Ford told the Toronto Sun that it would be “something out of this world that’s going to be family-friendly.”

“We want to make it a world-class destination,” Ford said.

According to multiple reports, the plans include the province working with three firms to bring about three distinct types of attractions.

Groupe Ecorecreo operates a number of family-friendly attractions in Montreal and other parts of Quebec. This includes everything from water parks to quadricycles, and paddle boat rentals in Montreal’s old port.

In 2015, the firm opened the Voiles en Voiles adventure park which includes climbing walls, inflatable games, and aerial courses. It even operates a range of outdoor activities in Montreal’s harsh winter.


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On the adult-friendly side is Austrian firm Therme Group which operates what the company calls, “city-based well-being resorts. Effectively, these are high-end water-based spas with, “multi-sensory saunas, therapeutic mineral pools, and exciting wave pools and waterslides.”

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The company operates a number of sites across Germany as well as in Bucharest, Romania, and Manchester, England.

The final firm is Live Nation, the premier concert presenter in North America which has been operating Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place for close to 30 years. The amphitheatre at Budweiser Stage is one of the few going concerns that remain of the old Ontario Place.

According to the Ontario Place annual report, the amphitheatre generated $3.8 million in revenue for the government in 2018. Live Nation is under contract to operate the 16,000-person facility through 2025, but it requires upgrading.

That is something the company would likely invest in if a longer-term lease could be agreed to as part of the redevelopment plan.

Critics of the Ford government have called the redevelopment process secretive, denounced the lack of public consultation, and called for the land to be primarily green space.

Of course, green space alone won’t draw people to the waterfront, and design by committee is rarely a recipe for success. The province’s call for proposals said that plans could not include housing or casinos and that existing green space like the 7.5-acre Trillium Park was to remain.

The Ford government declined to confirm the companies mentioned are the winning bidders and said the selection process is still ongoing.

We will have to wait to see the exact details of the proposals, which could be revealed within days.

But the plans as revealed so far show there’s the potential to turn Ontario Place into the world-class and family-friendly attraction that Ford promised in January 2019.

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