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Internal plans reveal potential ‘phase 2’ in controversial Ontario Place redevelopment

The Ford government is facing fresh questions over its plans to redevelop Ontario Place after new documents suggest the province considered filling in a portion of Lake Ontario to create a new development space.

Internal government documents obtained by the Ontario NDP and provided to Global News refer to “Phase 2” in the province’s overhaul of Toronto’s Ontario Place.

Government schematics point to the eastern portion of the island, near the current Budweiser stage, where a part of the waterfront appears to be paved over creating 25 acres of land to build on.

A spokesperson for Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said the government “has been transparent” over its plans and development of Ontario Place.

“The documents you are referring to are illustrative only and only meant to outline potential opportunities that are subject to change,” they said.

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Taken together the documents raise new questions about the government’s intent for the crown lands, which have been shrouded in secrecy and accusations of backroom deals.

A September 2020 illustration appears to show part of Lake Ontario paved over. Screenshot

The province is currently redeveloping Ontario Place with plans for a private spa on the west island, a new home for the Ontario Science Centre and a revamp for the Live Nation concert space.

References to a second phase of development at Ontario Place were discovered by the opposition in three separate documents from January and September 2020 and from August 2022.

The Ford government — which has faced questions over how it has handled the redevelopment of the waterfront site — has not publicly announced plans for the eastern portion of Ontario Place.

“When we unearthed these plans, these documents, I think it just confirmed our worst suspicions,” Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles told Global News.

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“And I think it’ll confirm the worst suspicions of Ontarians, that the government has not been upfront with us.”

Ontario Place: Phase 2

Three separate provincial briefings obtained by the NDP refer to the second phase of Ontario Place in passing.

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The area where the fresh development could take place is sandwiched between the Budweiser Stage and Trillium Park at the centre of Ontario Place’s east island.

The provincial documents suggest the 25-acre space would border Trillium Park up to what is currently Ontario Place Boulevard. It would also potentially fill in or pave over Brigantine Cove, the small patch of water that currently sits in front of the parking lot below Lake Shore Boulevard West.

“Now, they actually want to pave over part of the lake — they will stop at nothing,” Stiles said.

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“And they’ve proven that they’ll just override any law, any rule and regulation to get what they want. But it’s also very clear: they have not been upfront with Ontarians.”

In two of the provincial documents, the land is simply referred to as “Phase 2” and “Phase II.” One document — an August 2022 briefing prepared for Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office — describes the area more specifically: “Potential Future Development Opportunity [up to 25 acres].”

One government briefing included some details of the second phase of Ontario Place. Screenshot

A redacted version of the premier’s office briefing refers to a “phased, multi-partner approach.” A timeline on one slide shows the years 2024, 2025 and 2027 laid out on an arrow under a map of Ontario Place.

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The image has the area that will be turned into a large spa by the Austrian company Therme under number one, with number two assigned to the Ontario Science Centre’s new location.

The Live Nation Budweiser Stage is number three and the area for Phase Two is labelled number four, with “future development opportunity to be explored” written underneath.

A government slide lays out a long-term plan for Ontario Place. Screenshot

The government spokesperson also pointed Global News to the April 2023 announcement of a “complete vision” for Ontario Place. The lengthy news release makes passing reference to future plans that could involve the phase two area.

“Ontario is also sharing new recommended design concepts for the future public spaces, including on the East Island and the expanded shoreline of the West Island, made possible by upgrades completed by Therme Canada,” the release reads.

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Fresh transparency questions

The potential plans for a second phase of development raise fresh questions about the Ontario Place development.

Last spring, Global News revealed the province had awarded a 95-year lease to Austrian spa giant Therme to take control of public land for their private spa and waterpark.

The auditor general also found the government is contractually obligated to provide parking spots for the private spa and could face a “financial penalty” if it does not make good on that promise

The public concessions for the private project have faced criticism from opposition parties and advocacy groups. Until a recent deal between the City of Toronto and the Ford government, Mayor Olivia Chow was also vocally opposed to the plans.

Opponents of the redevelopment have raised concerns about private profit from government land and called for broader redevelopment of public space, including a larger dedicated park at Ontario Place.

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One group — Ontario Place for All — launched a legal challenge to the redevelopment during the winter, arguing it should be subject to key environmental studies before it can proceed.

Click to play video: 'Ontario government hands itself new powers over Ontario Place in proposed new law'

Ontario government hands itself new powers over Ontario Place in proposed new law

November legislation from the Ford government, tabled after the court challenge, removed requirements for environment assessments and also gave Surma the right to make significant changes to the zoning and planning rules on the site without asking Toronto city council for its blessing.

Stiles said the references to a second phase of development are the latest issue to cause opponents of the project concern.

“We’ve asked the government repeatedly what their long-term plan is for Ontario Place and they never mentioned this,” she said.

“I’m going to be asking the government why are you continuing to hide from Ontarians what your true intentions are for this land.”

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