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Company redesigns proposed Ontario Place waterpark and spa; adds more public space

TORONTO — The European company planning a spa and waterpark at Ontario Place has completed a redesign to create more public space and give the building a smaller footprint in response to feedback, but its staunchest critics remain opposed.

Some community members and politicians have voiced opposition to the $350-million privately owned facility planned for the Toronto waterfront attraction, particularly the amount of publicly accessible land, and representatives from Therme said Tuesday they will be submitting an updated design to the city.

The new design includes nearly 16 acres of public space, up from 12.5 acres, including 3.4 acres of parkland and trails on top of the waterpark building. Therme is set to spend another $100 million on the public space.

The building itself will be 25 per cent smaller than the original design, which is done by shrinking the height and the scale of the building, representatives said.

Simon Bredin, Therme Canada’s senior manager of communications and public engagement, said with the new design there will be more public space on Ontario Place’s west island than currently exists.

Therme’s polling shows that the planned waterpark and spa is “very, very popular” with the majority of Ontarians, Bredin said in a briefing on the new plans.

Ontario Place was always meant to be a “place for active fun, not just naturalistic parks,” he said.

The provincial government has said its plan to redevelop Ontario Place includes the Therme facility, a new Live Nation concert venue, a relocated Ontario Science Centre, as well as public space and beaches.

“From expanding access to the waterfront to increasing the public space to almost 16 acres across the West Island, Therme has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to working with the province, city, and public as we bring Ontario Place back to life,” Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said Tuesday in a written statement. 

But the Opposition New Democrats say the “splashy new designs” do nothing to address their concerns around transparency.

“(Premier Doug) Ford’s Conservatives … continue to hide the details of this 95-year lease to give away some of the most valuable public parkland to a private corporation,” Chris Glover, who represents Spadina-Fort York, wrote in a statement.

Glover is also critical of the province’s plan to foot the bill for a large underground parking lot for more than 2,000 cars at the site, as well as a recent environmental assessment for the Ontario Place redevelopment excluding Therme’s site.

That land and the revamped concert venue run by LiveNation were not part of the environmental assessment because they are exempt as private companies under a law changed by the Ford government a few years ago.

Environmental impacts on the redevelopment of Ontario Place are not expected to be significant, the report said, but there are “contaminants of concern” that will have to be remediated, and there are a number of animals there that are considered threatened that automatically have habitat protection under the Ontario Endangered Species Act.

The province plans to cut down more than 800 trees in the area, although none are protected under current legislation because most native species are not naturally occurring there – they were all planted when the islands were created decades ago.

The group Ontario Place for All, which says its goal is to keep Ontario Place “vibrant and publicly accessible,” said Tuesday that all the same issues remain.

“(There is) still a Private MegaSpa on public waterfront land … (and) Still blocks views of Cinesphere and pods,” the group wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press


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