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urban development

John Tory, chair of CivicAction, announces the Ontario Place revitalization plans for the now closed park.Deborah Baic

Ontario Place, the aging theme park on Toronto's waterfront, should be transformed into a multi-use complex where people could attend music concerts, shop, dine, work, live or just enjoy the view of Lake Ontario, a new report says.

Ontario Place should not become home to a "wall of high-rise condos," warned John Tory, a former Progressive Conservative leader and author of the report, who advised the provincial government on how to generate more revenue from a once-premier tourist attraction that has fallen into disrepair.

The lakeside complex should be open to the public year round, not just in the summer, Mr. Tory said at a news conference on Thursday at Queen's Park, where he released his final report.

"No one should have to pay admission to enjoy the natural beauty of this section of the waterfront of Lake Ontario," Mr. Tory said. "We see Ontario Place as a new public backyard for all Ontarians."

The Crown-owned Ontario Place would generate revenues for the cash-strapped province by becoming a year-round magnet for concerts and theatre performances. Mr. Tory is calling on the government to revive the popular Forum concert venue, a Toronto institution where rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry once performed on its revolving stage and where many people in the city first saw singers like k.d. lang.

The Forum, which sat 2,000 on rustic benches and the rest on grassy slopes at Ontario Place, was demolished in 1994 and the 16,000-seat Molson Amphitheatre rose in its place.

Tourism Minister Michael Chan did not respond to the report. Opposition members and union leaders criticized the report's proposal to set aside up to 15 per cent of the 40 hectares on Lake Ontario for residential development. They said any development would consist of high-rise condos.

New Democratic Party MPP Rosario Marchese, whose Trinity-Spadina riding includes Ontario Place, told reporters he is concerned Ontario Place will be sold off to the "lucky few" who can afford waterfront condos. "It will be a private space for millionaires," he said.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the public would have little or no access to the waterfront park. "Ontario Place, once the prime public event space in the province, will become nothing more than a playground for the rich," he said.

The park was a must-visit destination for residents and tourists when it first opened its doors 41 years ago. But the number of visitors has fallen sharply to just over 500,000 last summer –when admission was free – from 2.5 million during its heyday.

With a report from Elizabeth Church

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