Ontario Premier Doug Ford is defending his government’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place into a tourist destination amid calls for more transparency into the province’s deal with a luxury spa company and its pledge to move the Ontario Science Centre to the Toronto waterfront location.
The Premier on Tuesday said the government will “eventually” release more details about the total cost of the project but is holding back for now because there are other proponents for the site. Current plans feature a $350-million spa and waterpark from Vienna-based Therme Group, as well as an expanded concert venue, marina and parkland.
Mr. Ford also said he’s “open” to releasing the business case that outlines why the government says it is cheaper to move the science centre from its current location in northeast Toronto to a brand-new building on the waterfront, a day after a spokesperson for Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said the province would be keeping both the lease agreement and the business case confidential.
“I’ll be transparent as everything goes through, but there’s other proponents out there too. And I can’t show them our cards,” Mr. Ford told reporters at an unrelated announcement in Etobicoke.
“At the end of the day, this is going to be spectacular.”
Mr. Ford told reporters no taxpayer money will be used to build the spa or the planned expansion of a year-round concert venue from Live Nation. He said the province is spending money to prepare the land for development, at an estimated cost of $200-million, and is expected to spend hundreds of millions more on an underground parking garage for 2,100 cars, which the government said will generate revenue for the province.
Mr. Ford also mused about building a community centre or school at the current science centre site – instead of his previously announced plan for housing – as he vowed to work collaboratively with the city on revitalization plans.
“Either you keep an old building, all run down, or the province is coming in and saying ‘I’m going to build you something unbelievable,’” Mr. Ford said.
Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles told reporters that the government’s Ontario Place plan is a large subsidy scheme for Therme.
“It is very clear that the government is actually subsidizing this plan by hundreds of millions of dollars, both the parking garage and also other work that has to happen on the site,” she said. “And they are giving them a 95-year lease, and if that isn’t worth something, I don’t know what is.”
Ms. Stiles also questioned the secrecy about the rationale for moving the Ontario Science Centre.
Meanwhile, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which owns 81 acres of land around the science centre, said the province hasn’t consulted with it on its plans. The conservation authority and the city of Toronto have jointly leased the property to the Ontario Science Centre for a 99-year term, which expires in 2064.
The conservation authority said ravine land on the site contains mature forests and a large marsh that is home to multiple bird and mammal species, turtles and amphibians. It also said parts of the site are considered hazardous because of steep slopes and a flood plain.
“Provincial, municipal and TRCA policies require that future development be directed to areas outside of the hazardous lands,” the group said in a statement.
The province is also seeking six acres of Toronto city-owned land and 10 acres of water at Ontario Place for the proposed redevelopment project. But last week, councillors on the city’s general government committee deferred a decision to declare the property surplus until several steps are met, including receiving a copy of the province’s lease with Therme Canada.
With reports from Jeff Gray and Dustin Cook in Toronto