[URBAN NOTE] “John Tory Calls for a Large Park in the Redeveloped Ontario Place”
Hamutal Dotan’s Torontoist post describing former Ontario Progressive Conservative politician John Tory’s proposal redevelop the Ontario Place multi-use recreation complex into a new waterfront neighbourhood, a new park serving as focus for residential neighbourhoods, plausibly describes the place’s future for me.
The February announcement of the site’s closure may–notwithstanding Shawn Micallef’s positive memories of the site in its prime–have come too late, at least from the perspective of saving money. Demographic and cultural shifts made the old public amusement park model non-viable, and worse, unnecessary and unwanted, while Ontario Place’s waterfront location has become very popular as a place for people to live. The only times I have been down to the waterfront in the past year have been to visit friends who live in the area, and I don’t think I’m exceptional in that regard.
Why not take advantage of the emergent trend and sell off the unused land before real estate prices crash?
Six months ago, the provincial government announced that Ontario Place would be shut down, effective immediately, and that an expert panel would be convened to study options for revitalizing the aging waterfront attraction. Today, that panel delivered its report on Ontario Place to Minister of Tourism and Culture Michael Chan.
Calling it “an exciting model for a new Ontario Place,” John Tory summarized the panel’s recommendations for reporters this morning. The panel is calling for a major “state of the art park” to be built on the site: one that is free, easily accessible, and where “people can gather at any time of day and at any point in the year.” They recommend that this park take up the majority of the site, and that development be scaled accordingly, to maintain Ontario Place as a primarily public space. This should include some residential—but “not a wall of condos”—a major institutional or corporate anchor tenant, some retail and entertainment tenants, and new transit infrastructure to support this development.
The panel was determined, said Tory, to develop plans for an Ontario Place “that better reflects Ontario’s culture and history and life…a lot of things have changes since Ontario Place was conceived and built.” Noting the rapid waterfront growth Toronto has seen in the past two decades, Tory emphasized that Ontario Place needed to serve the residents of the city and the nearby communities: “a new opportunity to work and to live and to play and to discover along the water’s edge.” Residential, institutional, and retail tenants are key, says Tory, to keeping Ontario Place vital throughout the year, and not just a seasonal summer attraction.
It’s a stark contrast to the vision for the waterfront that the mayor and his vocal brother have presented since being elected to office, a clear rejection of the Ferris wheel/casino model of development in favour of some more urbanist city-building goals. John Tory’s Ontario Place is meant for the people who live here, not trying to attract tourists for the weekend.
“We strongly recommend bold, excellent design, and insistence on using sustainable and green building principles,” Tory went on, repeating that “discipline” would be required in choosing private-sector development partners who respect these goals. “Any new projects, we believe, must respect and enhance the natural beauty of the surroundings by protecting sightlines to the water,” a point that is discouraging for condo developers who might want to build up—high up—against the water’s edge, and put those lakeside views in their promotional materials.
Tory spoke with clear affection about the old Forum concert venue; he hopes Ontario Place will create a free outdoor performance space (as opposed to the current ticketed amphitheatre). And allaying concerns many historically-minded Torontonians have expressed, the panel recommends keeping the cinesphere and pods; “it’ll never become part of our heritage if we tear it down after 40 years,” Tory remarked this morning.