With a mega private spa on provincially owned landed drawing the ire of some local politicians and members of the public, Toronto's mayor says she has a better location in mind.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow is proposing the Therme Canada's spa and indoor water park – currently destined to take over part of Ontario Place – be located at the Better Living Centre, part of Exhibition Place.
Chow proposed the alternative in response to questions from media on Friday about whether Ford's reversal on plans to develop housing on parts of the Greenbelt gives her any hope he might backtrack on the controversial decision to offer a 95-year lease to Therme.
The Better Living Centre sits on city-owned land.
"If the Premier is interested in it, it's there," said Chow.
The Ford government's decision to offer provincial land to a private company to build a spa has been contentious from the start, creating friction between the provincial government and city politicians who say Toronto residents want the park to stay fully available to all. It also faces strong public opposition, sometimes taking the form of demonstrations. Plans for the spa and water park are currently being reviewed by city staff.
The Mayor did not elaborate on Friday or respond to requests on Wednesday about what discussions had taken place before proposing the alternative location. The city planning division told CBC News that as of Wednesday afternoon, city staff had not been given direction from city council or a council committee to consider alternative sites for the proposed Therme facility.
Chow did not clarify if her offer would be to give the land away, offer a lease arrangement or a sale.
Mayor Olivia Chow says the Better Living Centre on the Exhibition Place grounds is a better alternative than Ontario Place for Therme's spa and indoor waterpark. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)
She did present a list of reasons why it was a better option than Ontario Place.
"The Better Living Centre…the footprint is identical to a Therme's private spa footprint," said Chow. "It also has two nice parks beside it. It has a big parking lot. It's closer to public transit."
Better Living Centre under-used
Chow said the Better Living Centre is currently under-used.
Exhibition Place CEO Don Boyle confirmed that to be the case.
"Obviously used during the CNE but it has limited use during the rest of the year," he told CBC.
Boyle said he's keen to "explore" the idea.
"We're looking at opportunities to have it more on a general visit site as opposed to a ticket at the time of the event, he said.
He also said he'd like people to be able to spend a whole day or weekend at Exhibition Place throughout the year, and that the expansion of the Ontario Line will make it more of a year round destination.
Don Boyle, CEO of Exhibition Place, says he thinks moving Therme's spa and indoor waterpark proposed for Ontario Place to the Better Living Centre is worth exploring. (Submitted by Exhibition Place)
Boyle praised the mayor saying she was a "solution-based person".
"I think the prudent thing to do is to exhaust all sorts of possibilities and be open-minded," he said.
Advocacy group applauds proposed change
Advocacy group Ontario Place for All hopes Therme and the province will be more open-minded about a location.
The group's co-chair Norm Di Pasquale said, "Any alternative to Ontario Place is a much better alternative."
He says given the Better Living Centre already has sewage connections and other services, the location represents a better use of public funds than Ontario Place. Building the spa at Ontario Place would mean having to build more city services infrastructure, he says.
The group is concerned about turning a public park into a private spa and ignoring the natural and historical significance of Ontario Place by allowing Therme to build here, he says.
Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of Ontario Place for All, says the Ford government's reversal on the Greenbelt decision leaves him hopeful about the fate of Ontario Place. (CBC)
Di Pasquale says the Ford government's reversal on the decision to open up the Greenbelt to developers last week presents hope that public pressure could lead to a shift on the Therme deal too.
"We're expecting the Ontario government to make a good deal here for Ontarians... Right now, this looks like a very good deal for Therme and nobody else." he said.
Therme moving ahead with Ontario Place location
Simon Bredin, a spokesperson for Therme Group Canada, indicated no openness to moving up the road when asked if the company would consider the Better Living Centre as a location given public opposition to its current plan.
Bredit says Therme won the bid to participate in the provincial government's revitalization of Ontario Place.
"We will continue to work with all levels of government on delivering this project at Ontario Place," said Bredin in a statement.
The provincial government has also shown no willingness to budge on the plan.
Andrea Chiapetta, a spokesperson for Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma, says shovels are already in the ground to repair and replace underground 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," said Chiapetta.
The city planning division told CBC News in a statement that city staff "continue to review the development application that was submitted (and revised) by Infrastructure Ontario for the Ontario Place site."