Proposed Ontario Place spa better suited to CNE grounds

Doug Ford’s government wants to create a dream spa on a good part of Ontario Place. But if Therme, the Austrian resort developer, builds it, will they come?

The question of the commercial viability of this $350 million project has remained largely on the sidelines of a debate that has focused on the heritage architecture of Ontario Place, its accessibility and, since last week, the controversial design of the massive structure proposed for the west of the island.

It seems to me that if Queen’s Park is going to place such a big bet on a recreation program with no precedent in North America, we have to wonder if Therme’s plan will work where it was proposed.

Plans for the redevelopment of Ontario Place by Therme.

Some obvious concerns jump out at you. Construction will be complicated and expensive, as there is no road access to the site, which has been made up of submerged construction debris that will need to be hauled. The water table is where you’d expect it to be, and the location itself is between 200 and 500 meters walk from parking and public transport, which will be much less fun between November and April than in summer.

The cost of heating and cooling this facility – which according to Diamond Schmitt’s renderings will be largely encased in glass – is going to be enormous and carbon intensive and all of these operating and construction expenses will have to be recovered from ticket sales.

We also need to think about the white elephant problem: what if all the promised spa goers don’t materialize and Therme pulls out? What if we build it and they don’t come?

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Plans for the redevelopment of Ontario Place by Therme.

There’s a much better solution, commercially, and it’s hiding in plain sight: the expansive CNE parking lot directly south of BMO Field, which is the same size as the spa site.

Why? As the old joke goes, location, location, location.

Last fall, the city council approved the second phase of the Hotel X complex – a 400-room hotel adjacent to a 7,000-seat e-sports stadium, which will be located in the parking lot south of the Enercare Center. . The site will include underground parking.

It seems blindingly obvious that the natural location for a spa complex aimed at tourists would be next to another year-round tourist attraction rather than at the other end of a windswept promenade. This brownfield parking lot, which once housed the exhibition stadium, is close to accommodation, public transport (including the Ontario line, when it opens in 2030) and all other CNE amenities – the lounges professionals, the Midway, the Coca-Cola Centre, BMO Field, etc.

Plans for the redevelopment of Ontario Place by Therme.

From a destination marketing perspective, a site on the show floor makes perfect sense, especially given the significant capital costs involved.

As I wrote this week in Spacing, the city and province could facilitate this move by agreeing to a land swap – Ontario Place becomes a much-needed urban park with a grandfathered concert hall, and Queen’s Park can offer a much more commercially viable location to an international investor, with all the synergies that such proximity will bring.

A generation ago, when John Bitove proposed to Mel Lastman what would become the Direct Energy Center, he paved the way for the fairgrounds to evolve into a true year-round destination; the regular addition of new attractions continues to validate its vision. The Therme spa makes perfect sense in this environment, just as it makes no sense in a setting where it is not physically, aesthetically or commercially appropriate.

Plans for the redevelopment of Ontario Place by Therme.

A land swap, in my view, respects Premier Bill Davis’ civic vision for Ontario Place and the architectural and landscape heritage created by Eb Zeidler and Michael Hough. This reinforces David Crombie’s notion of a naturalized and public waterfront. He fully respects Doug Ford’s desire to make Ontario a welcoming place for foreign investors.

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And it offers the City of Toronto a large, ready-to-use park at a time when major downtown park proposals have been rejected or significantly watered down due to soaring land prices.

A quadruple victory. We need to ask our leaders why they ignored it.

John Lorinc is a Toronto-based journalist and editor of Spacing magazine.

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