Summer 2024 construction expected at Ontario Place

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Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction News

Officials behind plans to build a nine-storey private spa complex and multi-level underground car park  on the West Island of Ontario Place say they are continuing consultations before  resubmitting official plan amendment proposals by the end of June and the expected start of construction in 2024.

But while members of the team working with the Canadian unit of Austrian “wellness resort” developer the Therme Group say there could be more changes to the proposal, which would also see the felling of 864 mature trees or nearly 40 per cent of the entire Ontario Place canopy, they believe the plan deserves public support as constituted.

That’s because it would restore the deteriorating landscape on one of three man-made islands that make up the amusement park, remediate contaminated soil and groundwater, reinforce the eroding shoreline – and offer an enriching experience for millions of visitors each year.

Therme has said it anticipates adult admission fees would start at $40 for full day access to the spa to be housed in a glass walled complex designed by Toronto-based architects Diamond Schmitt.

The estimated $350 million “recreation and wellness facility” project would also generate more than 2,000 construction jobs.

Therme points to a poll of 801 people by Earnscliffe Strategies commissioned by the company that found 82 per cent of GTA residents have a very positive or positive impression of its plan for Ontario Place. Forum Research polling in 2019, showed as well that a majority of Torontonians want public waterfront access to the facility.

Therme is one of three firms  awarded a contract and long term lease by Ontario’s PC government to revamp the 155 -acre Ontario Place site on Toronto’s waterfront that opened in 1971 and was partially shuttered in 2012.

Along with the garage and indoor water park the redesign features botanical gardens, bike trails and walkways, a public beach, creation of a wetland that will clean island run-off and nearly 12 acres of public lands including green space.

Amid a report that taxpayers will pay for the parking facility, infrastructure Ontario spokesperson Andrea Chiappetta said parking garage funding details will be confirmed “pending the outcome of the ongoing City of Toronto review,” which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“People will be able to take the subway to a  beach downtown, something they can’t do now,’ Therme Group Canada communications vice president Mark Lawson told Ontario Construction News in a briefing.

The company increased the amount of public space in consultation with First Nation elders and after advocates said green space in the initial proposal was inadequate and that plans for one- third of the site to be private and ticketed conflicts with the founding vision for Ontario Place.

Landscape designer Jeffrey Craft of landscape architecture consultants Studio tla, who is working with Therme to plan the public domain aspects of the project, said the aim is to realize “a fully sustainable environment.”

He said water used at the facility will be collected, cleaned and reused. The island’s green and permeable space will be enhanced with creation of public paths, green roofs and wetlands that will add aquatic and terrestrial habitat and return clean water to Lake Ontario.

Gary McCluskie, principal architect for Diamond Schmitt, said the project will improve protection for the islands overall and provide improved access to the lake.

Craft said it will result in green space that is at least equivalent to what exists currently. He also said the plans call for replanting of trees although an arborist report suggests that any reduction to the tree canopy amid city plans to increase tree cover will be examined closely.

“The approximate number of trees to be removed will have to be revisited in the future as final design plans are developed,” says a 2022 staff report to the city’s executive committee.

“It is recommended that an arborist undertake an update of this evaluation upon completion of the designs … to assist in determining the recommended protection measures of existing trees and any tree compensation which may be required.”

And while Ontario Place lands are largely provincially owned, Toronto’s chief planner Gregg Lintern said the province and the city have entered into an agreement “that clarifies that the city will play its usual role as planning act approval authority for Ontario Place development applications,” meaning that the multi year construction project cannot proceed without city approval.

“The agreement sets out that the city will review the applications, incorporate community and technical stakeholder input and make recommendations to city council for decisions,” Lintern said in an email.

The province through Infrastructure Ontario is acting as the project manager and applicant on behalf of the private tenants, he said, adding that “free public realm areas (which include open spaces, green spaces, landscaping and vegetation) are also the subject of an ongoing environmental assessment, led by the province, with this “public realm work considered as a part of the official plan amendment.”

The city’s review of the Therme proposal will also consider whether a 2,118 vehicle underground parking garage,  in addition to the 632 surface parking spots proposed “is something that’s necessary or desirable,” Mayor John Tory told reporters in December.

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