'We're designing a fully sustainable environment': Ontario Place redesign boasts beach, spa, garden and new wetlands

Therme Canada answers criticism of its Ontario Place redesign with details on plans to expand the aquatic and terrestrial habitats of the lake

The team working behind the controversial development of Toronto’s historic Ontario Place site insist the project is for the greater good of the city, and will resort and revitalize parts of the landscape that are crumbling apart.

The proposed development will include an indoor water park and botanical garden, as well as a large parking lot. Critics are unhappy that the privately owned spa is being built on public land, in part with taxpayer’s dollars.

Therme Canada is the Canadian component of the Austria-based Therme Group, which won the proposal bid. A number of collaborators who are working on the project spoke to Yahoo News Canada to clarify what the development intends to do for the region, after criticism arose over the number of trees that could be cleared for the development.

Jeffrey Craft, of STUDIO tla, is tasked with focusing on the public realm of the project, meaning the interface of public space and the facility. He says a big part of the development will be active recreational space, which has long been established in the west island of the property. The development will include 12 acres of open, accessible space meant for the public, including lookouts, a beach and bike trails. What’s more is that it will be environmentally sustainable.

We’re designing a fully sustainable environment. Every drop of water that hits the ground is collected, cleaned and reused. We’re focused on wetland creation of an enormous amount of habitat that's missing right now from this part of the lake - that’s both aquatic and terrestrial habitat.Jeffrey Craft, STUDIO tla

He adds that the development will allow an opportunity to reconstruct the part of the island that’s deteriorating in a way “that’s not just functional but aesthetically beautiful and supportive of public uses year round and into the future.”

Over 800 trees will need to be cut down to make way for the project, which is one of the aspects that critics are concerned about. Craft says an arborist’s report is investigating the viability of the existing trees, and that anything that is removed will be replaced, multifold.

“We’re making sure what we’re providing is part of a genuine habit for this part of the city and province,” he says. “If we could save a tree, of course we’ll save a tree.”

Gary McCluskie, principal architect with Diamond Schmitt, the firm behind the project, says that because the initial landscape is man-made, there’s not been any natural protection in its decades of existence.

“It’s one of the big opportunities the province is taking to revitalize the islands themselves,” he says. “Through rebuilding, we’ll have better access to the lake.”

While the current space is popular in the warmer months, things get quieter as the temperature drops. The proposed project is set up to be used year-round, along with the current heritage pods and Cinesphere Theatre, which are being revitalized by the province. Live Nation is also working on redeveloping the current outdoor music theatre, which is open seasonally, into year-round music facility.

“These indoor components…provide greater access to recreation, entertainment, just these places to be as a destination on a year round basis,” says McCluskie.

A poll on the Ontario Place redesign suggests 64% of Ontarians, and 73% of GTA residents support the plan (Slide courtesy of Earnscliffe Strategies/Therme Canada)
A poll on the Ontario Place redesign suggests 64% of Ontarians, and 73% of GTA residents support the plan (Slide courtesy of Earnscliffe Strategies/Therme Canada)

An online survey of 801 people conducted on behalf of Therme by Earnscliffe Strategies found that 64 per cent of Ontarians and 73 per cent of people in the GTA supported the development of the Ontario Place lands.

The project has drawn strong reaction from media in recent weeks. The Globe and Mail’s architectural critic, calls the proposal “a disaster” and, if constructed, describes it as “the worst building in Toronto”.

In an opinion piece published last week, the Toronto Star's Editorial Board described the proposal to give waterfront land for a privately run spa "a disgrace".