TORONTO - The revitalization of Ontario Place will get underway with the construction of a new urban park and waterfront trail, expected to open in 2016, the provincial government announced Thursday.
The remainder of the grounds will undergo an environmental assessment and land use plan, said Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau, adding that the province has earmarked $100 million for pre-development.
"I think the opportunity to develop our waterfront here in Toronto for tourism, the economic potential is incredible," he said.
The re-imagined Ontario Place will include a canal district lined with stores and restaurants, an area for cultural activities and festivals, green spaces and a blue park — described as a waterscape for activities such as canoeing and kayaking — with floating docks.
The governing Liberals talked about revitalizing Ontario Place during the provincial election campaign, with Premier Kathleen Wynne pledging no condos would be built there.
Coteau said the space is set aside for public use, so there are no plans for any residential development.
"That vision capitalizes on the spectacular natural asset of Toronto's waterfront," he said, adding that the revamped Ontario Place will promote tourism.
"It helps our hotel sectors, it helps our restaurants and these are the core businesses that feed into employing people," he said.
Ontario Place opened in May 1971, but was closed in 2012 as the number of visitors dwindled and the province, struggling to rein in a $15-billion deficit, said it could no longer afford to keep it open. The government was spending about $20 million per year on the site, and attendance was around 300,000 annually compared to 2.5 million when it opened.
Coteau said some of the current structures of Ontario Place, including the Cinesphere and pods, will be incorporated into the new vision.
"We want to keep that memory alive, that legacy alive," he said.
One major theme of the project is music, Coteau said, adding that the plan is to incorporate more live music options year-round, while the Molson Canadian Ampitheatre will continue performances.
The New Democrats said the Ontario Place revitalization could clash with a "conflicting proposal" that would allow jet aircraft to land at the nearby Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
MPP Cheri DiNovo said "music and jet engines don't mix well," so the provincial government "needs to weigh in" on the proposal if they plan to develop the Ontario Place.
Coteau said the rejuvenated space will also tout a "hub for culture, discovery and innovation," which could incorporate museums and research, but he couldn't outline any specific plans.
"The revitalized core of Ontario Place will bring inspiration and interaction to the heart of the islands through a new hub for discovery and innovation," he said.
The plan to revitalize Ontario Place will also take into account winter weather in order to insure that the space can attract year-round visitors, Coteau said.