John Tory told CBC's Metro Morning in a Friday interview that the top priority for the panel is improving access to the waterfront, although he didn't rule out the possibility of residential development on the Ontario Place site.
Tory, whose panel has already had some community consultation sessions, addressed concerns about the scale of possible residential developments at the site on Toronto's western waterfront.
"The one message we had loud and clear is that if there are going to be people living in the Ontario Place vicinity — and it would be a part of the site, possibly, to enliven it and to create a community there where people there — it would not be, because we got the message that people did not want to see on the waterfront ever, a wall of condos," Tory said.
The old Ontario Place site was an amusement park for 41 years before the governing provincial Liberals decided to shut it down last year. The Liberals appointed a panel led by Tory, formerly the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, to find ways to breathe new life into the site.
"We're sort of looking at trying to find a way where we can have what amounts to an urban park that you don't have to pay for," said Tory, adding the panel will still have to find a way to make the "finances work."
"Secondly, it's really just about preserving and even perhaps improving and increasing the amount of actual space where you can sit near the water, whether it's to have a picnic or to go fishing or whatever. And we're very focused on that as a number one priority."
'Less amusement park, and more Millennium Park'
However, the site also has to attract a lot of people to be viable, and having people living, working, playing and studying there will, said Tory.
"So it's less amusement park, and more Millennium Park in Chicago."
Coun. Mike Layton tweeted soon after the Metro Morning interview that planning how to move people to the site is an important consideration.
"First step is figure out how to manage transportation to and from [Ontario] Place. Transit is key to any re-imagining," he wrote.
The panel's recommendations are expected to be presented to the province in the fall. It's then up to the government to decide what to do with the site.
The province has already quashed the possibility of a casino on the site after the group led by Tory said it didn't consider that a viable option.
Ontario Place was shut down last winter until 2017, although some parts of the park — like the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre — remain open.