EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
The province is planning drastic changes at two of Ontario's major legacy recreational sites.
Premier Doug Ford announced on Tuesday that the Ontario Science Centre will be relocated to Ontario Place, which will also be home to a new all-season concert venue.
Meanwhile, the site where the current Science Centre has sat in the Don Valley since 1969, if the premier has his way, will be a transit-oriented community, with dense residential development.
The province has planned for that site to be the northeastern terminus of the Ontario Line, a recently started 15.6-kilometre subway project that would run to a westward terminus at Ontario Place. The Science Centre station will also be a stop on the 19-kilometre Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is nearing completion but has no set opening date.
Construction of a new Ontario Science Centre at Ontario Place will begin in 2025, Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Neil Lumsden said at the announcement at the site on Toronto’s waterfront on Thursday.
Lumsden said the current Science Centre would need “major and costly repairs,” and that relocating it is “the most cost-effective way to modernize the centre.”
The new facility at Ontario Place is planned to be smaller than the current Science Centre, but Lumsden said “a lot of what is there right now probably will move over… with greater efficiencies (and) greater usage for either education, or the visitors, or across the board.”
NDP MPPs Chris Glover and Bhutila Karpoche, who both represent Toronto ridings, called the Ford government’s plan to move the Ontario Science Centre “out of touch.”
The new plan to move the Science Centre to Ontario Place is one of several significant changes promised by the Ford government at the site. The government also announced on Tuesday that Live Nation's revamp of Ontario Place's amphitheatre will allow it to host concerts year-round, while still retaining a lawn section.
The new amphitheatre will have a capacity of 20,000, the government said. Budweiser Stage, Ontario Place’s current amphitheatre that was built in 1995, has a 16,000-fan capacity.
Controversially, the Ford government has also agreed to let the Canadian arm of the Austria-based Therme Group build a private spa and waterpark at Ontario Place as well. Therme's spa and waterpark would supplant a public park on the west island.
Neither Live Nation nor Therme will be given any public funding for their projects, Ford said on Tuesday.
The government is, however, planning to pay for a new underground parking facility at Ontario Place, connecting its different amenities. This has been projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A government press release published on Thursday said a new parking facility would be “self-financing (and) revenue generating.”
Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said the government hasn’t yet decided how it’ll price any new parking but that it wants to “make the site as accessible for everyone so that they can come and have a wonderful day with their family.”
Ontario Place’s website says the existing parking lots closest to it currently charge $10- to $35-a-day flat rates, depending on what’s taking place.
Once its redevelopment is complete, the Ford government estimates Ontario Place will attract four to six million visitors every year.
Surma said on Tuesday that pre-redevelopment infrastructure upgrades will begin construction at Ontario Place this spring and that the government will award a contract for this work soon.
As for developing the area where the current Ontario Science Centre is located, Ford said “we're going to build density around that area, make sure we have non-profit, attainable and affordable, and regular homes.”
“There’s going to be thousands of units there,” the premier added.
Surma also said the timing of the development of this area will likely be dependent on the construction of the Ontario Line, which isn’t expected to be finished until around 2030.
As well on Thursday, the government said in a press release that it will "engage with the market" about how to improve Ontario Place's marina. It also released a collection of conceptual images, showcasing how it hopes its plans will pan out, and a "hype video."