Ontario Place, once an innovative, exciting park that attracted three million visitors yearly in the 1970s, has launched a revitalization campaign to get those crowds back as the park approaches its 40th birthday.
The park unveiled the My Ontario Place Pavilion and website on Tuesday to gather ideas from the public on how to bring new life to the facility. Attendance levels are a third of what they used to be and the park’s buildings are showing wear and tear.
General manager Tim Casey said Ontario Place needs to revitalize itself, and hopes the pavilion and website will encourage people to generate ideas. “Ontario place belongs to the people of Ontario, and we want all Ontarians to participate in shaping its future,” Mr. Casey said.
Mr. Casey said the price of admission has certainly played a role in the lower attendance numbers. An adult pass was $1 in the 1970s, but an all-day pass costs more than $30 today. The provincial government heavily subsidized Ontario Place when it first opened, allowing the park to charge a nominal sum for people to get through the gates and still maintain its infrastructure.
“When you have very low prices to get in, you can get a lot of attendance,” Mr. Casey said. “But how much does it cost you? Can you sustain the park?”
Although the provincial government still provides the park with enough of a subsidy to allow it to turn a profit, Mr. Casey said Ontario Place needs a new vision to be sustainable over the long term. He said he wants to focus on a three-pronged goal: extend operations beyond the summer, attract a wider demographic of visitors beyond families with young children and touch up buildings that weren’t designed with the future in mind.
“We want to generate the same kind of excitement people had 39 years ago,” he said.
Outside the pavilion, Vicki Blair, 37, walks her two boys over a bridge toward the Cinesphere, the iconic orb that houses an IMAX theatre. As Darren, 7, declares that he wants to go down the waterslide, Ms. Blair said she brought the boys here from Brockville for the first time because it’s something new for them.
“It’s something for the kids to do,” she said with a shrug, “and we’ve already been to Wonderland.”
The My Ontario Place Pavilion will be open until Sept. 6. An easel of paper at the back of the room already has suggestions scrawled onto it. In child’s handwriting, someone has written, “I miss the maze.”
People can post memories, photos and ideas on the website for the next several months. On its first day, the website had already attracted nearly 50 suggestions – from adding a casino to introducing paintball – and a handful of photos.
Mr. Casey said it’s impossible to say how long the changes will take. Shorter-term fixes will be addressed sooner, but long-term ideas and visions could take years. He said the park will seriously consider all suggestions from the public, as well as ideas from businesses and professionals that were requested formally in July.
“I can’t say how many of those we will use, because I have no idea what people will send in,” he said.