Ontario Place is a multiple use site under development in Toronto, Ontario. It is located on the shore of Lake Ontario, just south of Exhibition Place, to the south-west of downtown Toronto. It opened on May 22, 1971 and consists of three artificially constructed, landscaped islands.
The facility is owned by the Government of Ontario and is administered as an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture. It takes its name from the original Ontario Place, an annual exhibition and entertainment complex that operated on the site from 1971 to 2011. Currently the site includes the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, event facility "Atlantis", and a marina. Buildings on the site include "pods" designed by Eb Zeidler and a geodesic dome, that contained the Cinesphere IMAX theatre.
2010 request for information
In the summer of 2010, the provincial government issued a Request for Information calling for ideas from private bidders to completely redevelop the park. Ontario Place general manager Tim Casey told the Toronto Star that "2011 will be our 40th anniversary. It definitely needs a revitalization, that’s no surprise. It’s a blank slate, we’re open to just about anything.” A formal Request for Proposals process began that fall. The government intends to transform the park from a largely seasonal facility to a year-round attraction. Redevelopment was to have included the tearing down of the Cinesphere as well as other long standing attractions.
2010 and 2011 changes
From the fall of 2010 through to the fall of 2011, Ontario Place embarked upon an aggressive period of remediation and renewal. Over $10,000,000 in provincial capital funds were spent on the property during this 12-month period. These investments were directed toward:
- a significant refreshing and expansion of the waterpark. Soak City, the first waterpark built in Ontario, added a new "family" waterslide, an outdoor "spa pool" and waterfall, and over 100 metres of new landscaped beach and public promenades. These upgrades significantly expanded Soak City’s ridership capacity and variety, but also gave the public new and unprecedented access to superb eastward views of the Toronto downtown waterfront. The new slide, called Topsy Turvy, was purchased from ProSlide Technology of Ottawa, Ontario. Topsy Turvy was recognized as the “2010 Best New Waterslide” from IAAPA, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. The installations of Topsy Turvy, and the engineering systems needed for its operation, were completed in October, 2011;
- a restoration of the Cinesphere, the world's first Imax theatre. The original projection system was replaced by state-of-the-art Imax 3D film technology, making Cinesphere the largest 3D theatre in Canada and second largest in North America. New sound systems, seats, concession areas, and interiors were also added;
- introduction of an “in-habitat” ecology, conservation, and animal care exhibit called the Eco-Learning Centre. A former arcade building, the Eco-Learning Centre was established in a lagoon area of Ontario Place as a fun and informative “edutainment” attraction, and was created with displays provided by the World Wildlife Fund, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Royal Ontario Museum, Parks Canada, Toronto Humane Society, and the Ministry of Natural Resourcesamong other exhibitors. The Eco-Learning Centre attracted over 300,000 visitors in its first year of operation.
- Echo Beach, a 5000-person capacity outdoor concert venue on the east side of Ontario Place. Developed in collaboration with Live Nation Entertainment, Echo Beach is a general-admission concert venue designed to help re-create the popular ambiance of the original Ontario Place Forum, minus the revolving stage but introducing a real sandy beach section with spectacular views of the Toronto nighttime skyline. Some of the first performers at Echo Beach in 2011 included Sloan, Robyn and Platinum Blonde. Toronto Life Magazine wrote, "The new Echo Beach is a reason to love Toronto because music sounds better under the stars." For 2012, based on strong reviews and rising attendance, Live Nation increased substantially the number of concerts scheduled for Echo Beach, including Our Lady Peace, Sam Roberts, and Counting Crows.
- A new, digitally-based, point-of-sale system installed throughout the park. This modernization was undertaken to reduce retail transaction times, improve accounting efficiency, and enable significantly-enhanced data analytics.
- A new website, built from scratch and featuring, Drupal, an open-source Content management system platform, that would more easily enable in-house publishing, and new social marketing and mobile technology applications.
The general cleanliness of the park was also upgraded significantly and included the planting of over 500,000 seeds, flowers, and trees, the building of new planters, the repainting of nearly every building on the site, and the removal of over 1,000 feet of obsolete and unsightly fencing.
Over and above these capital and cleanliness projects, Ontario Place also made significant investments in entertainment, marketing and sponsorship for its 40th anniversary celebrations. Free grounds admission was offered to the public for the first time in 20 years. Live entertainment performances were quadrupled, to over 2,000. Advertising was reinstated, with a new ad campaign developed by Draft FCB of Toronto. And a significant sponsorship of the 40th birthday celebration by CTV generated over $1,500,000 in extra advertising value. Ontario Place was recognized in 2011 by IAAPA as a worldwide finalist for a Brass Ring Award in the category of Best Integrated Marketing Campaign.
The results of this considerable and broad-based effort generated a significant, measurable, and immediate turnaround in the attendance numbers, park revenues, and public perceptions of Ontario Place in 2011. Total park attendance increased 9% to 880,001 despite a below average year for concerts at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre and a decline in cross-over attendance from the Canadian National Exhibition. Core park attendance, however, increased 72% to 563,362. First-time visitor attendance increased even more, at 89%.Revenues in all categories increased by double digit figures, despite the fact that there was no charge for actual admission to the grounds.
Scores from interview-based research into visitor perceptions also improved strongly. Favourable response to the question, “ Ontario Place has changed for the better”, increased by 43%, as did, “Ontario Place is my favourite entertainment park in the GTA”, at 50% up. Perceptions of park cleanliness and general upkeep improved, by 34% and 37%, respectively.
On February 1, 2012, the government announced that the public sections of the park will be closed and redeveloped, with a targeted completion date of 2017, in time for Canada's 150th anniversary. John Tory was announced as the chair of a Minister's Advisory Panel on Revitalization. All Ontario Place facilities will be closed except for the marina, the Molson Amphitheatre, the Atlantis entertainment venue and parking.
Minister's Advisory Panel Report
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Following the provincial elections in June, the government announced the plans in July for Ontario to be developed as an urban parkland with Molson Amphitheatre, Cinesphere and the pods retained.
The West Channel at Ontario Place was a venue for the 2015 Pan American Games (Athletics -marathon/race walk, cycling (road race), triathlon (cycling/run), open water swimming, triathlon (swim), water skiing) and 2015 Parapan American Games (Cycling). Minor and temporary upgrades were made to accommodate use during the games. Construction was begun in March on the park and a waterfront path, which was named the William G. Davis Trail, after the Ontario premier who opened the original Ontario Place in 1971.
- "Ontario Place to be torn down and rebuilt", Toronto Star, July 15, 2010
- "Minister's Advisory Panel on Ontario Place Revitalization". Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Queen's Printer for Ontario. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
- "Parts of Ontario Place to be closed for overhaul". 680 News. 1 February 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Bradbeer, Janice. "Will this lakeside gem glisten again?". Toronto Star, May 15, 2016. page IN7
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