Ontario’s NDP leader is asking the provincial government to “come clean” about it’s Ontario Place redevelopment plan, which she described as a “backroom deal” with an Austrian spa company whose lease could reportedly last nearly a century.
“This government is committing land in a public park — a park owned by the people of Ontario — to a private luxury spa until 2118,” leader Marit Stiles said during an exchange with Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma at Queen’s Park during question period Monday.
“This government is committing to a backroom, 95-year lease with absolutely no details. This government has failed to show Ontarians what value this deal has for the people of this province.”
Stiles’ demand to make the details of the lease public follow a recent report by Global News on the length of the agreement.
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Surma’s office didn’t confirm the length of the contract, citing the need to “protect the integrity of future negotiations.”
“While the terms remain commercially sensitive, the tenants are making significant investments into the improvement, maintenance and repair of the surrounding public spaces to help keep the site clean and beautiful all-year long,” a spokesperson said.
The government’s plans for the future of Ontario Place, which has been sitting in the shadow of its former glory since it was decommissioned in 2012, became more clear last Tuesday.
At a news conference, Premier Doug Ford and Surma announced the Ontario Science Centre would be moved to the waterfront space to complement the previously announced 22,000 square-metre spa and 48,000 square metres of public land.
Therme Canada, which was selected by the government to scale up the wellbeing space in 2021, did not respond to CTV News Toronto’s request for comment on the reported length of the lease.
A rendering of Therme Canada’s space at the Ontario Place redevelopment is seen here. (Government of Ontario)
The project is estimated to cost taxpayers as much as $650 million, according to Stiles.
Ford has said Therme will cough up $500 million in capital investment, and Surma added Monday that the tenant will continue to invest in the land that surrounds what’s been described as a “mega spa.”
“For the first time, we will have our tenants contributing to the repair, ongoing maintenance of the public realm space so that we don’t make the same mistake that previous governments have made and lead the site into disrepair,” Surma said in response to Stiles.
The request to see the now-secret lease followed a motion by Toronto Coun. Gord Perks on Thursday that delayed a land swap between the city and the province needed to see the redevelopment through.
According to the motion, the land exchange of 16 city-owned acres won’t be considered until the provincial government provides its lease agreement with the Austrian resort developer, the development application is approved by council, and the federal government expresses its “interest or disinterest” in taking over the land.
Meanwhile, Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of the grassroots advocacy group Ontario Place for All, said he thought the Progressive Conservative government would have learned from the 1999 sell-off of Highway 407, which was leased for 99 years for about $3 billion and is valued at an estimated $30 billion today.
“When we look at long-term leases like this, it’s usually people like the Harbourfront Centre, the Science Centre, public organizations. Even Disneyland hasn’t been in operation for 95 years,” he told CTV News Toronto in an interview.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Siobhan Morris.