Ontario Place could be part of an entertainment destination attached to a gambling complex, even though the provincial government is ruling out the site for a casino in Toronto.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Ontario Place, home to an aging theme park, is not large enough to host a large entertainment complex. But if a casino were to be located nearby at Exhibition Place, he said, Ontario Place could become part of a “golden mile” on Toronto’s waterfront made up of restaurants, a convention centre, retail stores and open park spaces.
Michael Chan, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the dormant waterfront attraction is no longer in the running.
The decision follows the recommendation of an advisory panel studying the future of the provincially owned property. The panel, led by former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, said at a public meeting Tuesday evening that it did not think a casino was an appropriate use of the land.
“That was a fairly easy recommendation to accept,” Mr. Duncan told reporters on Wednesday. “Even if we wanted to put a casino there, it’s not an ideal spot.”
Mr. Duncan said his home town of Windsor is a good example of the kind of entertainment destination he envisions. The Caesars Windsor casino is part of a waterfront park stretching 10 kilometres and a plaza that hosts entertainment events every weekend, he said.
However, he stressed that it will be up to City Council in Toronto to decide whether a casino will be built. The provincial government has the final say on the Ontario Place site because it owns the land.
The government closed the iconic Cinesphere, the water park and amusement rides last February, as part of a plan to revitalize the park and generate more cash from a tourist attraction that has fallen into disrepair. At the time, Mr. Tory said the government had not “ruled anything in or out” when asked if a casino could be located there.
Mr. Chan said the province plans to begin an international competition later this year on future plans for the site. “We will ask that submissions address parkland, commercial, retail, residential, recreation and entertainment uses for the Ontario Place site -- not a casino,” he said in a statement.
Toronto city councillor Mike Layton represents the ward that includes Ontario Place and has pushed to have it remain a public site geared to families.
“I think this is a good step forward. It’s a good decision for Toronto,” he said.
Mr. Layton said the quick response by the province to the panel’s advice shows it is listening to local residents.
The province has said it wants to establish a casino in the GTA, but will not force one on an unwilling municipality.
Toronto city council is divided in its support for a casino, with many downtown councillors firmly opposed to a new gambling facility in the city’s core.
Councillor Mark Grimes, chair of nearby Exhibition Place, another possible site, advised councillors to wait for a report this fall from the city manager before taking a position on a casino.
“I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing right now,” he said.
Mayor Rob Ford has said he favours the city-owned Exhibition Place as a site because of the extra revenue it would bring Toronto as landlord.
Mr. Grimes said if the exhibition grounds are chosen as a site, the board would have to give the proposal “serious consideration,” although it would face opposition on council.