'Worst building in Toronto': Ontario Place development proposal described as 'mind boggling', but designers promise sustainability

The government is acting like 'pirates' when it comes to the Ontario Place green space, experts say

Editor's note: This story has been edited to include comments from Therme Canada, the developer group in charge of revitalizing Ontario Place.

A proposed indoor waterpark, spa and giant parking garage that would take over a beloved and historic Toronto park is facing plenty of harsh criticism from the public, architectural experts and environmentalists.

Austrian developers Therme are hoping transform Ontario Place into an enormous private attraction, along with a parking garage fit for over 2000 cars with an estimated $450-million price tag. The landmark attraction is currently used for outdoor activities, live music, festivals, events and more. Last month, the province and the development company applied to the city to redevelop the site.

Alex Bozikovic, The Globe and Mail’s architectural critic, calls the proposal “a disaster” and, if constructed, describes it as “the worst building in Toronto”. On social media, many people are expressing their concern about the potential of losing this unique and celebrated public space.

Phil Pothen, environment program manager with environmental group Ontario Defence, calls the proposal “mind boggling”, saying it shows that the Ontario government wants to squander one of the province’s most celebrated places. What’s worse is that the site will also be the terminus station for the upcoming multi-billion dollar Ontario subway line, meaning that the area will be in desperate need of public spaces.

This is a place where no one will ever need to drive. It’s as if they've read a treatise on land use planning and on land use that was bad for the environment and decided to do the opposite of everything they read.Phil Pothen, Environment Program Manager, Ontario Defence

Pothen says this is the latest in a series of unfathomable land use planning, referring to the recent move to allow development in publicly owned parts of the province’s Green Belt.

“These are just giveaways of goods that belong to the public, interests that the government is supposed to be husbanding in the public’s interest, all for well-connected private developers,” he says. “It’s as though they’re pirates that have seized a tanker ship and are selling everything that can be found on it to the highest bidder.”

In terms of its potential environmental impact, Pothen calls the project a disaster.

“It is vital that urban areas have public spaces everyone can enjoy,” he says. “The government is taking one of the most renowned and celebrated public spaces and sacrificing it for a private space.”

Additionally, the massive amounts of concrete and parking is going to lock in decades of serious CO2 emissions to the site.

While the renderings for the proposal show various parts of public space, Pothen says they are dwarfed in scale to “essentially the little rough edges of the property.”

A campaign called Ontario Place for All was even launched to drum up support for keeping the space as is, as well as ways people can object to the development.

Therme Canada responds to criticism, joined with First Nations group to plan

Ontario Place is designed to connect people with the water while celebrating the beauty of organic design and honouring architectural history of Ontario Place. The design, led by There ARC, Diamond Schmitt, STUDIO tea, and Baird and Associates, is grounded in the planned expansion of public space, providing improved access to expanded parkland, a beach, and the extension and enhancement of the William G. Davis Trail across the entire site. The includes providing a new link to the mainland from the West Island. It will create a year-round landmark waterfront destination reconnecting people with Lake Ontario.

Mark Lawson, vice president of communications and external relations with Therme Canada stresses that the proposal for the development include 12 acres of new publicly accessible land including a new beach on the west side of the island, an aquatic habitat that will bring fish back to that side of the lake, as well as trails, lookouts and bike parking. They’ve also partnered with the charity Swim Drink Fish and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, to help with consultations.

Lawson says as for the spa and waterpark facility, they will be the first of its kind in Canada.

“You’ll have waterslides, and wave pools and chairs under palm trees,” he says. “If you imagine during a snowstorm where it’s snowing sideways, you have the chance to go in, go down a waterslide, hang out in a wave pool, grab a meal, or sit under a palm street while it’s snowing outside and look out at the lake, that’s the kind of thing that will be possible.”

While the parking facility is the responsibility of the province, Lawson refers to a 2012 report on Ontario Place, which found it would benefit from enhanced transit infrastructure.

“We’re really proud of this opportunity to bring something like this to Toronto’s waterfront for people across the city, across the province and around the world,” he says.