Boaters forced from Ontario Place Marina as construction begins on controversial spa project
Jason Wren received an email from Ontario Place Marina on Feb. 14, but he says it was anything but a sweet Valentine.
Instead, it was a message telling the Toronto-based artist he would have to find a new home.
Wren says he and hundreds of other people who keep their boats at Ontario Place were told "construction activities" have started and they would not be allowed to keep their boats there due to safety concerns.
"Everybody's reaction was, 'What now?'" said Wren, who lives on his boat for nearly half the year and is now scrambling for a place to live this summer.
The construction marks the beginning of a controversial plan to transform parts of Ontario Place into a private water park and spa with underground parking for over 2,000 vehicles.
Wren says there are five- to six-year waiting lists for other marinas around the city,. He says Ontario Place was the most affordable marina in Toronto.
"Now you've got 240 boaters clamouring for space to put their boats," he told CBC Toronto.
He says there was no timeline provided for the work set to begin this spring, which the email from Ontario Place Marina describes as necessary for the site's infrastructure, including sewage, water, electrical and gas services.
"We look forward to re-opening an updated marina facility at the future redeveloped Ontario Place," the email reads.
'It's a nice, tight-knit community'
Austrian-based Therme is behind the spa project, saying it would turn the 155-acre waterfront park into a "world-class year-round destination for all."
But the project leaves many worried about the character of Ontario Place, especially for boaters who aren't sure they'll be able to return to the marina.
"I know guys who've been here for 20 years, 25 years," said Wren. "This is their family, this is their cottage. I have friends who have gotten married on their boats here."
"It's a nice, tight-knit community."
Organizers of a Facebook group called Ontario Place Boaters Community have written to Kinga Surma, Ontario's infrastructure minister, and Janet Gates, the CEO of Ontario Place, requesting they be guaranteed renewal of their slips at a legacy rate and given a reopening date well in advance.
CBC Toronto has reached out to Surma but so far she has not responded.
A spokesperson for Ontario Place wouldn't confirm if any of the boaters' requests would be met, but said in a written statement to CBC Toronto, "We encourage all boaters interested in the planning for the future of the Ontario Place marina to register for roundtable sessions via our website."
"The handling of this project is grotesque," writes one of the Boaters Community organizers, Roman Soler, in a Facebook post. "They basically screwed over all of us for a private spa."
The posts have attracted the attention of Ontario Place for All (OP4A), a grassroots group trying to keep the park publicly accessible.
Co-chair Norm Di Pasquale told CBC Toronto the Therme project will necessitate cutting down 850 mature trees and will disrupt 170 different species of animals.
He also says it will cost Ontario taxpayers $200 million for site servicing and potentially up to $450 million for the 2,118-space underground parking lot.
"This whole process has been wrong from the start," said Di Pasquale, adding that there has been inadequate public consultation.
Last Friday, OP4A joined opposition MPPs Kristyn Wong-Tam and Chris Glover for a news conference at Queen's Park to raise concerns about the spa development.
Critics call for more transparency
"What do the people of Ontario get in this secret Doug Ford deal with a mysterious foreign company?" asked Wong-Tam.
The MPP for Toronto Centre said NDP Leader Marit Stiles has requested compliance and value-for-money audits from the auditor general.
"We care about public accountability for hard-paid tax dollars. We want to make sure there's good value for the money," said Wong-Tam.
Ontario's Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk told CBC Toronto her office is still assessing whether it will commence work on either of the requested audits, but confirmed no work has begun so far.
Meanwhile, Di Pasquale says the development is going full-speed ahead with plans turned over to the city for review in December.
"We deserve a say, and what is put there should somehow resemble Ontario," he said.
"An Austrian spa in no way represents Ontario."