Amid the fanfare over the new vision for Ontario Place and its inclusion of mixed-use residential development onsite, concerns are being voiced by politicians and urban designers about how the transit needs of residents and visitors will be met and paid for.
Direct TTC bus service, a new LRT line and a local streetcar loop are recommendations included in a 55-page report by the panel charged with making over the shuttered tourist attraction.
The panel, chaired by CivicAction head John Tory, recommends public-private partnerships to fund new lines in the underserved area. The TTC's 29 Dufferin bus route is currently the only direct transit link to Ontario Place and has irregular summer and non-summer hours.
Local Councillor Mike Layton, whose ward includes Ontario Place, said Friday that the report does not provide enough explanation about funding additional transit lines.
"This is a hard infrastructure piece that the city's really not in a position to pay for," he said. "We're having difficulty delivering transit to the surrounding community that's already there, let alone a community that they might want to build there."
The report suggests extending Dufferin Street farther south to Lake Shore Boulevard to provide direct bus access to the area. A proposed TTC LRT line would run along Lake Shore Boulevard from Remembrance Drive and meet the Dufferin Street extension.
Councillor Peter Milczyn, chair of the city's planning committee and a member of the TTC commission, said getting transit to the site and to the entire western waterfront is key. "If you are going to make it more of a year-round area where people are living, working, and there are more entertainment options, then you've got to upgrade transit," he said, referring to the proposal to bring back the free concert venue, the Forum.
The panel also proposes extending the current streetcar loop from Exhibition Place farther south through Ontario Place, an addition provincial transit authority Metrolinx estimates will cost $100-million.
Mr. Tory said that although the pricetag is hefty, any option is preferable to the current lack of transit.
"It's certainly unacceptable for a much more active site like we contemplate in our report where people actually live, study, work and come there to visit," he said.
However, he noted that public-private partnerships to raise the funds may be tricky. Mr. Tory warned against Ontario Place becoming a "wall of high-rise condos" in exchange for money from developers to be funnelled towards transit.
"They'll say, 'We'll give you an extra $25-million to help enhance transit, but you have to let us build 10 more storeys on those buildings,'" Mr. Tory explained. "Even then, if I was sitting at the government table, I would say, 'No thank you.'"
Mr. Layton said many of the report's other recommendations – such as keeping the area publicly accessible and prioritizing green space – were "expected," but commended the panel for advising against the development of a casino and suggesting Ontario Place be open year-round. Mr. Layton said he thinks bringing the Forum back is a "fantastic idea," but wants it to remain free.
"If we're now looking for financial mechanisms to play for it, that works against what was so great about the Forum," he said.
Ken Greenberg, a Toronto architect who worked as a consultant on a 2004 report about the future of Ontario Place, said the proposed LRT line and streetcar loop would benefit not only Ontario Place, but the Exhibition and Liberty Village as well.
Keeping the space public, opening pedestrian and transit access and rejecting over-commercialization will bring Ontario Place back to its roots, he said. However, he said, it's easier to write reports than to execute them.
"What people should be mindful of now is what are the implementation strategies that will be put in place to actually make this come to pass," he said. "And sooner rather than later, because it's quite sad to see that site sitting there all boarded up."
- With files from Elizabeth Church
Councillor Ford unimpressed
Councillor Doug Ford, who faced strong criticism for suggesting the redevelopment of the eastern Port Lands at the mouth of the Don River include a megamall, Ferris wheel and monorail, said he wonders why those same critics aren't upset by the Ontario Place proposal.
"You know what I find ironic?" said the mayor's brother. "Doesn't the Ontario Place proposal sound awful familiar, with the exception of the Ferris wheel – mixed use, residential, commercial? Everyone is embracing it. 'Oh isn't this wonderful.' I'm thinking next time I will get a John Tory to present my deal.
"We propose one thing, we get shot down. They propose it – almost identical – and everything is hunky dory."
- Elizabeth Church