Toronto mayoral hopefuls have very different plans for the future of Ontario Place as the province looks to build a mega spa on the waterfront space.
In his second campaign announcement in as many days, candidate Josh Matlow pledged to withhold 16 acres of city-owned land from the Ontario government needed to open a private spa at the location.
“Toronto’s waterfront is not for sale. It’s going to remain public,” Matlow said at a news conference Thursday.
“While Premier Ford might be working for a private spa, my job will be to work for Torontonians.”
Matlow went on to say that the province’s development plans would have a “devastating impact” on wildlife in the area and come at the expense of 800 trees.
If elected, the midtown city councillor pledged to move forward with a “revitalized public park,” fully integrated with a “reimagined” Exhibition Place.
Hours before Matlow’s announcement, candidate Ana Bailao proposed moving the Ontario Science Centre, currently located at Eglinton Avenue and Don Mills Road, to the waterfront property, which has been decommissioned since 2012.
“This is an idea that has been around for quite a few years,” the former city councillor said. “Spending $500 million to finance a private spa is not a priority for Toronto right now. The priority is about fixing services, it’s about building houses, it’s to make life easier and more affordable for Torontonians.”
Bailao said her plan would produce 5,000 new homes, including 1,500 affordable homes, at the former science centre site if she’s elected in June.
Meanwhile, candidate Mitzie Hunter said any plans for a reimagined Ontario place need to meet three “rigorous tests,” including standards for public space, tourism, and affordability.
“I am not going to be a mayor who simply says no, as we need to say yes to the right things,” the Liberal MPP said in a news release. “I am a unifier who will help drive forward redevelopment. The current proposal does not meet these tests.”
All three candidates will face an uphill battle in convincing the Ontario government to scrap their ambitious redevelopment plans for the site, which include 65,000 square metres of private entertainment, water recreation, and wellness facility space.
Ontario submitted its development application for Ontario Place in November 2022, saying it would include 12 acres of accessible public space as well as a family-friendly attraction.
Among the three private sector partners chosen by the province are Austrian resort developer Therme, Quebec outdoor recreation firm Écorécréo (which has reportedly withdrawn), and U.S.-based concert promoter Live Nation, which already operates Budweiser Stage in Ontario Place.
A rendering of the proposed Ontario Place redevelopment is seen here. (Therme)
The government previously said it expects the partners to contribute a total of $500 million to its construction, leaving the rest to taxpayers.
Once shovels are in the ground, Therme says construction should be done in 24 months.
However, a recent analysis by Toronto city planners found some issues with the proposed redevelopment, including a five-level underground parking garage and an entrance building that is so large it “overwhelms the public realm.”
- RELATED: City staff issues critical report of Ontario Place redesign
Additionally, the status report suggests the current location of that building “prioritizes private uses” and acts as a barrier to non-paying members of the public who wish to access the waterfront.
Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma responded to Bailao’s pitch prior to Matlow’s announcement saying, “Since 2019, our government has been working with the Ontario Science Centre to explore including science-related tourism and education programming as part of our vision to bring Ontario Place back to life.
“While that work is ongoing, we’re glad that Ms. Bailao agrees and look forward to the support of all mayor candidates as we redevelop this important provincial asset.”
BRADFORD PROMISES TO BREAK UP GRIDLOCK
Also on the campaign trail on Thursday, mayoral hopeful Brad Bradford pitched his solution to traffic in the city.
His plan includes appointing a so-called “congestion relief commissioner,” which he said will break up traffic by better coordinating construction projects in the city and identifying key intersections for design changes.
“Traffic bottlenecks are clogging our streets,” Bradford said in a news release. “Political gridlock has led to traffic gridlock. I will act quickly as mayor to help Torontonians get where they need to go, faster.”
As well, he said he would deploy 200 parking enforcement officers to Toronto’s busiest intersections during rush hours to keep cars moving, which he said is a “proven and effective way” reduce traffic.