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The European company set to build a spa and waterpark complex at Ontario Place says it has enlarged the planned parkland that would surround its facility.Therme Group

The European company chosen to build a spa and waterpark at Ontario Place says it has listened to local concerns and enlarged the proposed parkland that would surround its facility, submitting new plans that include about 12 acres of publicly accessible pathways and gardens, a pier and a 200-metre long beach.

The Vienna-based Therme Group’s Canadian arm provided The Globe and Mail with new drawings and designs for its $350-milllion greenhouse-like complex and the parkland around it. The images come from redevelopment plans the Ontario government submitted to the City of Toronto on Friday.

The future of the 155-acre Ontario Place site along Toronto’s waterfront – home to an amusement park mothballed in 2012 – has been the subject of debate that intensified after the province announced its redevelopment plans last year. Community activists and some local politicians have said it should all be kept as a publicly accessible park, opposing the province’s decision to lease a large chunk of it to a private-sector firm.

Previously released designs had left the impression that public parkland encircling the spa complex would be limited to just a six-metre strip. Therme says its planned multiuse path, which would connect to the city’s waterfront trail, is always at least six metres wide. But it says the public space around it was always envisioned as larger and has now been expanded.

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Therme Group

The company says its latest designs show parkland and gardens lining the path, with the distance between Therme’s boundaries and the lake at 25 metres in many places, and extending to as much as 80 metres in others.

In all, just over half of Ontario Place’s 22-acre west island, the company says, will be open to the public, with the company covering future maintenance costs of that parkland.

The public lands include a fountain area, gathering spaces Therme’s consultants say could accommodate as many as a thousand people, a potential winter skating rink, a new pier where kayaks could be rented, a boardwalk, newly constructed wetlands, and public washrooms and concession stands at a new beach, which is to be 35 metres wide and 204 metres long.

Previously floated plans only promised eight acres of parkland, compared to the current 12, with just about 40 per cent of Ontario Place’s west island open to the public. Therme says it shaved 90,000 square feet (about two acres) off its building as part of its revisions to increase the park space.

Mark Lawson, Therme Canada’s vice-president of communications and external relations, said the company and its consultants have met with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, focus groups of Torontonians and city planning officials, and modified their plans as a result.

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Therme Group

“We made the building smaller, and we made the park bigger,” Mr. Lawson said. “That’s a direct result of that ongoing dialogue with the city.”

However, this promised park would still largely snake around the walls of Therme’s facility, designed by Toronto’s Diamond Schmitt Architects. The futuristic structure, with three retractable roofs, will dominate Ontario Place’s west island and dwarf the existing oversized-golf-ball-like Cinesphere theatre to the east, which is not part of the new complex.

Therme says it expects two to 2½ million visitors to its facility a year, with as many as 14,000 coming on busy days for the family-oriented waterpark and its waterslides, and more relaxing spa and “wellness” areas designed for those 16 and older. It says daily adult admission would start at around $40.

Ontario soon intends to hire contractors to prepare the site for Therme, work that includes remediating the contaminated fill used to create Ontario Place’s artificial islands 50 years ago, as well as building sewage, water, power and gas connections. An Infrastructure Ontario document pegs the cost at up to $200-million, to be borne by the province.

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Therme Group

Therme also expects the province to pay for a large underground parking garage that could hold more than 1,000 cars.

In an interview, Ontario Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said the province was still “exploring” parking options for the site, which will eventually be close to the new Ontario Line subway – not scheduled to open for almost a decade. (GO Transit and TTC streetcars stop north of the site at Exhibition Place.)

Therme expects to break ground on its waterpark and spa in late 2024, with opening day as early as 2026.

Ms. Surma said the new designs address concerns raised by the project’s critics. Asked about those who call for the entire site to be free parkland, she notes the old Ontario Place charged admission and suggests the plans have been misunderstood.

“I think what was communicated was that it’s just this massive building and nothing else,” she said. “And that’s just not accurate. Look at these wonderful places to walk and sit with your family.”

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Therme Group

The fate of much of the rest of Ontario Place remains unknown. The government plans to repair and restore the exteriors of both the Cinesphere and the nearby “pods,” which are suspended over the water and were designed by Ontario Place’s original architect, Eb Zeidler. But no decision has been made about their future use. Ms. Surma said her ministry is preparing a business case to be completed in the spring on potentially moving the Ontario Science Centre there.

She also said no decision has been made about the land further east, where Quebec-based adventure tourism provider Écorécréo had been tapped to build an attraction before it withdrew from the project.

Detailed plans for expansion of Los Angeles-based Live Nation’s existing Budweiser Stage outdoor concert venue at Ontario Place have also not yet been drawn up.

In addition to the parkland, Therme has committed to covering the cost of rehabilitating and fortifying the west island’s artificial shoreline, which the firm’s consultants say has been damaged by erosion, storms and flooding, and is at the end of its engineered life. The company says it will also improve fish, bird and plant habitats.

The 7½-acre Trillium Park to the east of the Therme site is to remain as is, with its trails planned to connect to those that run through the new proposed parkland around the spa.

Ms. Surma put a video on Twitter on Friday, announcing that the plans had been submitted and promising “expanded public space.” But her statement neglects to mention Therme or the plans to expand the concert venue.

Local group Ontario Place For All called on the city to reject the plans, which it said would turn the site’s west island into “a private spa for the rich.”

“This is not the vision Ontarians have for Ontario’s most iconic urban park,” the group’s co-chair, Cynthia Wilkey, said in a statement. “Turning over public space to a private spa is unacceptable.”

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Therme Group

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