Mayoral Candidate Supports Waterfront Public Park for Everyone over Private Spa for Tourists
Toronto – Mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa announced today that, as Mayor, he will withhold 16 acres of City-owned property at Ontario Place, required by the province, to negotiate for a public park instead of a private spa. Today’s announcement is in response to a rendering of the proposed Therme spa, depicting a copper-hued mega complex consuming fully two-thirds of Ontario Place’s West Island, presented to Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Panel last week.
The spa would effectively privatize 62,000 square metres of public space on Toronto’s waterfront with an expected admission cost of $40 per person. The Therme proposal would leave little room for public space with a beach and trails provided as an afterthought to “navigate around” the “private program” through “lake filling and shoreline repair activities.”
According to a City Staff report from earlier this year the Province has indicated that it requires 6 acres of City-owned land and approximately 10 acres of City-owned water at Ontario Place to facilitate the Therme’s project. As Mayor, Gil Penalosa will withhold these City lands to ensure that the West Island of Ontario Place remains accessible for everyone in Toronto. A possible better location for the spa would be on the large parking lots at the City-owned Exhibition Grounds.
The provincial government will submit an application to City Planning in October of this year for the Therme development. A preliminary report is anticipated for presentation at the first Toronto and East York Community Council meeting of the next Council term.
The City-owned land that the Province is interested in acquiring is designated as Other Open Space Areas and is part of the Green Space System in Toronto’s Official Plan. The Official Plan prohibits the sale or disposal of City-owned lands within the Parks and Open Space Areas designation (Policy 4.3.8). While the Official Plan allows for the exchange of green space, policy 22.214.171.124 directs that “the sale or disposal of publicly owned lands on the water’s edge will be discouraged”.
The Therme proposal would have a devastating impact on the environment of Ontario Place’s West Island as it is currently home to beavers, minks, and foxes and over 170 species of birds, 15 of which are on the provincial species at-risk list. Further, the spa development would provide “limited opportunity” to preserve the many mature trees on the site.
Well over 1 million people have visited Ontario Place over the pandemic proving the demand for a great public park. As has been demonstrated through the lessons of the pandemic and through climate change, public parks support good public health, equity, and sustainability outcomes – Gil’s three indicators to evaluate all public investments – and the privatization of this precious public land would fail to uphold all three. As Mayor, Gil Penalosa will work with Torontonians to protect Ontario Place from private interests and work with residents from across the city to design and build a signature green space for everyone across our waterfront.
Gil was twice elected as the Chair of the Board of the US National City Parks Alliance, and now serves as the first Ambassador of World Urban Parks, the international representative body for city parks, open space, and the recreation sector. Gil is currently an Expert Advisor to the International Society for Urban Health, and is a Juror of the International Association of Horticultural Producers’ Global Green City 2022 Awards. Throughout his career, Gil has been a strong advocate for improving city parks, making his first mark in Bogotá, Colombia, where he led the design and construction of over 200 parks – including Simon Bolivar, a 113-hectare park in the heart of the city.