After weeks of heavy backlash over the Ontario Place redevelopment, one of the three private partners involved in the project has exited.
This was first reported by The Globe and Mail this morning. The Globe wrote that Quebec-based Écorécréo Group will not be moving forward with plans to create a themed adventure park on the Ontario Place site.
In a press release from late July, Jean-Philippe Duchesneau, Écorécréo’s co-owner, expressed excitement over their would-be contribution to the project, stating that they were “honoured to have been chosen to contribute to the redevelopment of one of Ontario’s most iconic destinations.”
But it would seem those feelings have since changed.
"Over the last five years, Écorécréo Group has devoted substantial time, energy and resources to develop a world-class attraction that would be aligned with the Province’s vision to bring back some magic to Ontario Place," a spokesperson on behalf of Écorécréo tells STOREYS. "Despite best efforts from both parties, we were unable to finalize terms as part of the long-term lease agreement. As such, we will not be finalizing a commercial agreement related to the Ontario Place opportunity. As we are still bound by the confidential agreement between ourselves and the Province, the commercial discussion must remain confidential and we cannot get into any specific details. "
Écorécréo, along with the Therme Group and Live Nation, came onto the project last summer. With Écorécréo's exit, it stands to reason that the City will be on the hunt for a new private partner.
“Does it have to be brought to you by a company behind a paywall or can it be something provided by the public for the public?” he says. “I think this could be a real opportunity because it means that more of the space is freed up for what potentially could be public space.”
Greenberg, Waterfront For All, and much of the public have been sourly opposed to the privatized nature of the Ontario Place redevelopment. Moreover, Greenberg says what was unveiled to the public in early August is a far cry from what was once planned for the site.
“John Tory did his review of Ontario Place from 2012 to 2017 and the province was pursuing the idea of going back to the original concept for Ontario Place as a kind of public space,” he says. “There were plans to expand [Trillium Park] over the rest of Ontario Place seeing how intensely Ontario Place was actually being used by people even without much programming or many of the attractions.”
But following the provincial election in 2019, motivations shifted. Ontario Place was slated for redevelopment and the government made a call for proposals. It was at that point that Écorécréo and Therme became involved.
Interestingly, Écorécréo’s plans to create an adventure park for children actually was more in line with the original Ontario Place, which included a Children’s Village. With that said, Écorécréo’s park may not have offered the same accessibility that the Children’s Village once did.
“This Écorécréo version -- how expensive would it have been to get into it for families? Is it more like a park or is it more like an expensive theme park experience that people would only use very sparingly,” he says. “I don't know enough about exactly what Écorécréo was proposing, but I do understand that it would have been a pretty expensive, fairly sophisticated high-tech version.”
Given the recent developments, there might be an opportunity to bring something new to the redevelopment plans -- something that’s more in line with what Toronto needs and wants.
It’s perhaps a chance to bring the site back to its roots.
“When people talk about their memories of Ontario Place through Ontario Place for All, we literally got hundreds and hundreds of people who remember their childhood or taking their kids or their grandkids to the Children's Village,” he says. “So, I would love to see things dedicated to children's play in the spirit of the original Children's Village. It would be fantastic to see that as part of the public park.”
In spite of Écorécréo’s exit, a spokesperson for Therme Canada seemed optimistic that the redevelopment will stay on track.
“With a long-term lease with the Province signed, Therme Canada and our Canadian architecture and design teams are working at full speed to move forward through the development approvals process to bring Ontarians an amazing destination that helps fulfill the Province’s vision for a renewed Ontario Place. This includes creating over eight acres of new parkland where people can walk, run, bike, and swim at a new public beach.”