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Toronto Controversial umbrellas give city branding value at fair price, says park designer

People take in the sun at Sugar Beach in Toronto in this 2012 file photo.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The pricey pink umbrellas at Toronto's Sugar Beach are worth the investment in creating an eye-catching public space, the park's designer says, despite concerns raised this week about their cost to taxpayers.

Claude Cormier of Claude Cormier + Associés, the Montreal-based landscape architecture firm that designed the beach, said the fibreglass and stainless steel umbrellas feature LED lights and concrete footing. They stay standing all year round as they are able to withstand major windstorms, snowstorms and rust, he said. Each umbrella costs $11,565.

"It brands Toronto," Mr. Cormier said. "Everybody knows Sugar Beach because of those little umbrellas that have personality, and that creates a positive image of Toronto worldwide."

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Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong criticized Waterfront Toronto this week for spending a total of $416,340 on the umbrellas and another $529,800 for the two large candy-striped rocks along one side of the beach.

An even bigger concern, the councillor said, was the lack of transparency surrounding Waterfront Toronto's expenditures – the agency is not covered by access-to-information legislation.

The agency will run out of money in three years, according to a city staff report.

"You have to look at return," Mr. Cormier said. The "Jackie Kennedy pink" umbrellas are a unique addition to city's urban landscape, he said.

"They're elegant. They're soft. It has a kind of a positive mood and we need positive moods in the city, otherwise everything is so the same."

Mr. Cormier said regular umbrellas would cost more to be replaced each time they're damaged.

Each of 30 or so umbrellas at Sugar Beach was being used Friday afternoon by people sunbathing, reading or chatting with friends.

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Daniel Fradkin, who has visited the park several times, said he feels the umbrellas are worth the price.

"The city needs more places like these," said Mr. Fradkin, who works on Yonge Street a few blocks away. "[It adds] a balance of not only high-rises, but also parks and beaches, resting places that people can just come and enjoy."

Krysten Zarivnij decided to check out Sugar Beach with a friend after searching for a sandy place to lounge that wasn't too far away. She said she'll definitely be back. "It's a nice touch to the city. It makes it feel like you're not in a concrete block," she said. "I guess it's worth the money if people enjoy it."

A Waterfront Toronto report from 2013 says the agency has attracted nearly $2.6-billion in development projects in the East Bayfront and West Don Lands neighbourhoods.

James Roche, Waterfront Toronto's director of park design, said Mr. Cormier also designed HTO Park further west, near Spadina Avenue. It features similar umbrellas in yellow.

"The umbrellas become a very important kind of element that connects other parts of the waterfront at the same time," Mr. Roche said.

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The $14.2-million park budget included the cost of excavating the existing parking lot.

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