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Cherry Beach, once marked by urban decay, has been given a $2-million facelift as part of the first wave of waterfront revitalization.

As the city prepares to officially kick off the beach season today, a mix of cyclists, dog walkers and sunbathers have already found the new hot spot behind the industrial area at the foot of Cherry Street.

"Cherry Beach has gotten a reputation for a seedy atmosphere before," said Jeff Stern, who brought his Chihuahua, Paco, to the off-leash dog-walking area yesterday. "I think it's going to be a lot more inviting now. It's a lot cleaner looking."

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The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. has overseen $2-million worth of improvements to the area. It has built a traffic circle for a new seven-days-a-week TTC bus route, planted more than a hundred new trees, installed new lights and upgraded the roads.

The building for washrooms and changing rooms has been renovated, with running water and indoor plumbing in place.

Rose Bowman said the beach, despite being "a bit dirty" and "a bit smelly" from her vantage point on a sunny bench, was full of potential.

Curiosity about Cherry Beach's checkered past pushed her to make the hour-and-a-half ride from her home. The beach's reputation was solidified by the Toronto rock band Pukka Orchestra, whose 1984 song Cherry Beach Express touched on rumours of violent beatings meted out by police on the shores of the lake.

Other signs of Cherry Beach's history are still visible. The lifesaving station at the edge of the water, built in the 1930s, the beach's heyday, has fallen into disrepair. Nearby, tiny wavelets lap against an abandoned tire jutting out of the shallow water.

"It's strange to see this in a city the size of Toronto, especially down by the lakeshore where it should be prime development land," Ms. Bowman said.

At the western edge of the beach, his dogs running free in the water and churning up the dark brown sand, St. Clair Balfour stands on the loose, loonie-sized stones at the shore. He visits Cherry Beach every weekday, because it's the closest thing to cottage country in the city.

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"When I'm down here it's mostly dog walkers," he said. "This is one of the only places where you can take your dog off the leash near the water."

Maria Jendrasik doesn't like the concentrated dog presence, but she was one of the few sunbathers to lie out on the beach yesterday.

"They should be on a leash," she said. "The last time I was here I was lying down and suddenly there were three of them right in my face. And I don't like dogs."

Ms. Jendrasik said the area still feels a little uncomfortable at times, but it's a nice oasis close to the heart of the city. "There is the odd lurker," she said. "As a single woman when you want to undress to the point where you can get some sun, then it's negative."

According to city officials, Cherry Beach has one of the cleanest water-quality records in Toronto.

"It's one of the beaches we would qualify as one of our best bets," said Cheryn Gervais of the city's Works and Emergency Services department. "It was considered safe for swimming 98 per cent of the swimming season last year."

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Kristin Jenkins of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation said there are plans afoot to restore the lifesaving station, which has been designated a heritage building, once next year's budget is finalized. There's also a multiyear plan to improve the beach's pebblysand. "Given how great it is and the size of the area, a lot more people should be using [Cherry Beach] Having it accessible by transit should help," she said.

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