Therme Canada changes design for proposed Ontario Place spa in response to criticism

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An artist’s rendering of the proposed redesign of Ontario Place. The European company planning a spa and waterpark at Ontario Place says it has completed a redesign to create more public space and give the building a smaller footprint in response to feedback.HO/The Canadian Press

Therme Canada has redesigned its proposal for a spa and waterpark at Ontario Place, after outcry from community groups and politicians who oppose plans to privatize parts of the Toronto waterfront site.

The company revealed its “newly evolved” design for the West Island of Ontario Place on Tuesday. The revised plan, intended to address concerns from residents about the project’s use of public space, has an additional four acres of parkland and trails, including some on rooftops. And it includes spa buildings that are 25 per cent smaller in volume than what the company had previously proposed.

The redevelopment is an initiative of the Ontario government, which owns the majority of the land on the cluster of artificial islands that make up Ontario Place. Premier Doug Ford has defended the plan, which he has said would remake the site into a “world-class” tourist destination.

Aside from the spa and waterpark, the provincial plan envisions a marina, additional parkland, restaurants, entertainment venues and an expanded concert arena. Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has also pledged to move the Ontario Science Centre to the site.

The architects behind the spa project told reporters Therme will be making a formal resubmission of the design to the city of toronto, which they said would be followed by consultations with city staff, and an in-person community engagement meeting on Sept. 7. City officials are expected to report back to city council by the end of the year.

Public consultations in April found respondents were generally in favour of the revitalization of Ontario Place, a former theme park site. But a majority were opposed to the spa plans, with some saying the proposed building was too tall and would obstruct views of the waterfront and the Cinesphere, Ontario Place’s distinctive spherical movie theatre. Many also said they wanted the site to remain accessible, public and free, with more outdoor amenity space.

“We’ve really benefitted from the feedback we’ve received during the public consultations,” said Gary McCluskie, a principal with Diamond Schmitt Architects, the firm that is designing the spa for Therme. “One area of concern that we heard was about the scale of the building, its size, and so we’ve responded in the design evolution by literally making the building smaller.”

But the redesign did little to allay concerns from opposition parties and advocates, who say Ontario Place should not be privatized at all.

Ontario Place is a battle for the public good. Its architects are on the wrong side

One of the fiercest opponents of the spa is Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow. During the recent mayoral campaign, Ms. Chow vowed to fight the provincial government, and said Toronto could take that fight to court if the province were to expropriate about six hectares of city-owned property required for the redevelopment.

Asked about the project prior to the release of the updated plans Tuesday morning, Ms. Chow said she will be reviewing the application but wants to ensure the land remains accessible to the public.

Area city councillor and deputy mayor Ausma Malik said in a statement Tuesday that the updated design doesn’t properly address the concerns raised through the initial consultation process about the size of the proposed building and public access.

The provincial government is spending an estimated $200-million to prepare the land required for the spa, and is expected to spend hundreds of millions more on an underground parking garage for 2,100 cars, which the government has said will generate revenue for the province. Estimates put the total cost at $650-million. Therme will have a 95-year lease with the province, according to reporting by Global News, but the details of the contract have not been publicly released.

Therme’s original design consisted of a single large structure, but the redesign envisions a spa made up of a campus of buildings, with parkland running over and between. The design also has a new welcome pavilion and bridge to the West Island.

The new design includes public gathering spaces designed in partnership with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Ontario Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma expressed support for the new plan in a statement.

Simon Bredin, Therme Canada’s senior manager of communications and public engagement, said in a media briefing on Tuesday that Ontario Place, which was created in 1971, was always meant to be a “place for active fun, not just naturalistic parks.” He also said the company’s polling shows the plans are “very, very popular.” He added that the “overwhelming majority” of Ontario Place – about 68 per cent – will remain publicly accessible space.

Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of the citizens’ group Ontario Place for All, which is pushing for the site to remain public, said in a statement that the group looks forward to getting more detail from the development application resubmission in September.

Chris Glover, an Ontario NDP MPP who represents the area, called for the government to reveal the details of its 95-year lease with Therme. He said the government also hasn’t provided a business case for moving the Ontario Science Centre to the waterfront site.


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