The controversial move to relocate the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place would ultimately save the province $257M, the Ford government said on Wednesday.
In a new business case put forward regarding the relocation, which would see the Science Centre take over the existing Cinesphere and Pod complex at Ontario Place, with a new custom-built, state-of-the-art facility going up as well, the provincial government notes that keeping the Science Centre in its current location on Don Mills Road would require an investment of $1.3B over 50 years to help repair and modernize the aging building.
Moving to Ontario Place, the business case states, would cost a smaller $1.05B over a 50-year period. This lower cost, the Province says, is "due to a lower capital requirement, reduced operating and maintenance requirements as well as increases in visitors and/or revenues."
The move was put forth in April as part of the ongoing redevelopment of Ontario Place, with the provincial government touting the ability to offer significantly more programmable space at the location, despite it having a much smaller footprint than the existing Science Centre building.
"This business case supports our government’s original vision for Ontario Place, which is to bring science-based programming to the heart of Toronto as part of a new world-class destination that offers a range of family-friendly, year-round activities and is easily accessible for families from across Toronto and Ontario," said Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma in a statement on Wednesday.
An April 2022 report prepared by Pinchin Limited found that the existing Don Mills Road building had "multiple critical deficiencies" related to the roofs, walls, elevators, interior finishes, fire and safety equipment, and mechanical and electrical systems. This, the report found, posed a risk to occupant health and safety.
The business case also notes that attendance at the Ontario Science Centre has declined significantly in recent years, falling more than 40% between 2009 and early 2020. It points to a number of competing tourist attractions that have entered the market in that time, including Ripley's Aquarium, as well as new investments in the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Rogers Centre, and the CN Tower.
"Locals and tourists have a breadth of choice in attractions in the downtown core," the business case reads. "The OSC's suburban location, coupled with its limited investment in an improved visitor experience has challenged its ability to stay competitive in the Toronto attractions market."
Despite the provincial government's enthusiasm for the move, it hasn't been as well received by the public, largely because it's a part of the Ontario Place redevelopment, which will see the Ford government hand over several acres of parkland to Vienna-based Therme to develop a private spa and waterpark.
Although the City of Toronto recently accepted the Province's authority to advance its redevelopment plans, Ontario's Auditor General is conducting an audit concerning the transformation, and advocacy group Ontario Place For All has filed an application with the Ontario Divisional Court seeking an injunction to halt construction.
Premier Doug Ford did, however, agree to consider relocating the publicly funded $500M parking garage planned for Ontario place to Exhibition Place.