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Ontario Place will create new urban park and waterfront trail

Disused swan pedalos sit in front of Toronto's Ontario place on Wednesday June 26, 2013, as they provincial government announce plans to redevelop a parking lot at the site into a new urban park and waterfront trail.

Chris Young/chris young The Globe and Mail

Ontario Place released plans Wednesday to revitalize seven-and-a-half acres of land previously closed to the public, creating a new urban park and waterfront trail.

Spanning an area the size of about four BMO Fields, the plan will allow "access to one of the most breathtaking views of the shore and the skyline," said Michael Chan, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

The announcement of the new park came 11 months after an elaborate mixed-use plan was proposed by a provincial advisory panel headed by former Progressive Conservative party leader, now-radio host John Tory. It included plans for parkland as well as a mid-rise real estate development on 15 per cent of the site and recommended the preservation of such iconic structures as the Cinesphere and the pods. Its 18 recommendations were endorsed by the province and Mr. Chan at the time.

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Mr. Tory did not return requests for comment on Wednesday's announcement.

The stretch of land to be converted to parkland is currently a parking lot located on the east island shoreline of the park that Minister Chan describes as "a premier piece of the waterfront that has previously gone under utilized."

The government will be looking for landscape architects as early as July and hopes to select one by the fall. The plan is to open the new section of the park to the public as soon as 2015, in time for the Pan American Games.

There is no budget set for creating the new urban park and trail, Mr. Chan said.

No further plans for the re-opening of the waterslide or other park attractions were discussed. "That will belong to the broader planning of Ontario Place," Mr. Chan said. "Our hope is to have at least a casual opening of the park by at least 2017," he said.

Eb Zeidler, the architect of Ontario Place, which first opened in 1971, said in an e-mail that the new green space was a splendid first step to revitalizing the public attraction.

"It must be followed by recreating the magic that Ontario Place once gave to create a place for the people of Ontario and the world to find a space to enjoy and admire the beauty of Ontario, using the key buildings of the past to reinforce this idea," he said.

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Councillor Mike Layton, whose ward includes Ontario Place and who has previously expressed concern about the future of the site, said he was "pleased" with Wednesday's announcement.

He said the city has a role to play and should try unlocking the potential of Ontario Place and Exhibition Place together.

"It's not going to be one big thing," he said. "Someone told me this analogy, and I think it's very apt. There's a lot of jewels in the crown, not just one big one. Not like what they were trying to sell with the casino."

With a report from Sunny Dhillon
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