Local residents rallied at Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday, following the approved motion to explore the Exhibition Place grounds as an alternative site for the Therme spa proposed for Ontario Place.
Ontario Place For All, a grassroots organization, held the rally outside of City Hall, where attendees advocated for the preservation of hundreds of trees, and for maintaining public access to the waterfront park.
Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of Ontario Place for All, said the Exhibition Place grounds already have the infrastructure in place that better serves the city.
“By moving the mega spa, you no longer need a massive underground underwater parking garage to service Ontario Place,” Di Pasquale said to the rallying supporters. “The Ex has 6,000 parking spots, all the site-serving, TTC and GO service and Ontario Line. Doesn’t that make so much more sense than a parking lot we will have to pay for 95 years?”
‘Public, green and accessible’
Exhibition Place is located across Lakeshore Avenue opposite the Ontario Place site, and is home to the annual Canadian National Exhibition and Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, as well as BMO Sports Field and various entertainment complexes.
Members of Toronto’s executive committee unanimously voted in favour of the concept, proposed by Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York councillor Ausma Malik, during Tuesday’s meeting. She spoke at the rally, thanking the supporters in attendance.
“They want to make sure that the future of Ontario Place is one that is public, green and accessible,” Malik told the Toronto Observer.
The Ford government’s decision to offer a 95-year lease of the provincial-owned land to Therme, an Austrian-based wellness firm, sparked outrage earlier this year from some local politicians and members of the public.
Chris Glover, NDP MPP for Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York, also spoke to supporters at the rally and criticized the provincial government’s plan for Ontario Place, saying the “taxpayer-funded subsidized parking garage” proposed for the land is a project “we do not want and do not need.”
“It’s absolutely shameful the way this government has been behaving,” Glover said. “This government is corrupt and I think the corruption extends to their plan for Ontario Place, and we need to stop this.”
Staff to report findings Dec. 5
City staff expects to consult with Exhibition Place CEO Dan Boyle on exploring the feasibility of the Exhibition Place grounds, including the Better Living Centre, as an alternative site for the proposed Therme facility.
Staff are requested to report to the executive committee meeting on Dec. 5.
In the proposal letter, directed to the executive committee on Oct. 13, Malik said the study would generate more feedback from the city.
“A preliminary feasibility assessment will allow further feedback to be provided by City Council and the Exhibition Place Board of Governors, and to help determine any further steps, including public engagement.” Malik said in the letter.
Mayor Olivia Chow previously forwarded the idea of putting the spa at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place, which contains more than 200,000 square feet of exhibited space and a building Boyle told the CBC was underused most of the year.
Darrell Brown, president of the Canadian National Exhibition Association, pushed back on the notion of a feasibility assessment to relocate the mega spa on Exhibition Place grounds during Tuesday’s committee meeting.
“I just believe even raising the issue of a feasibility study lends credibility to a concept that is defective at the outset,” Brown told the committee.
The Ford government continues to move forward with the plan to redevelop the Ontario Place for a large private water park and spa. The Ontario Science Centre is also expected to move to Toronto’s waterfront, as part of the development plans.
The province plans to spend roughly $650 million on improving the Ontario Place site and its heritage components. The Cinesphere, billed as the world’s first IMAX theatre when it premiered in 1971, will be refurbished, along with the interconnected pods that are hailed for their modernist design.
The plans also include a new concert venue to go with the existing Budweiser Stage.
In a statement shared to CP24.com on Oct. 23, a provincial government spokesperson said: “The vision to rebuild Ontario Place is well underway, with shovels in the ground to repair and replace the underground critical infrastructure. We’ve made significant progress on this work so far and we’ll continue to work with the City of Toronto to execute that vision.”