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An aerial view of Exhibition Place in 2013, left, and crowds file through the Princess’ Gate in 1958. (Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail)
An aerial view of Exhibition Place in 2013, left, and crowds file through the Princess’ Gate in 1958. (Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail)

What Exhibition Place could be: a great park, a new neighbourhood... Add to ...

With more than one million annual visitors, the Canadian National Exhibition is a boon for Toronto, but its reputation as the country’s largest fair can overshadow the other purposes that Exhibition Place serves.

“People misunderstand the grounds as just a big, vast open space. It’s not,” said Councillor Mark Grimes, chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors. “There’s historic buildings in there, it’s a very unique place and a very important property on the Toronto waterfront.”

The board presiding over the 192-acre plot, not including the provincially owned Ontario Place to the south, bills it as Canada’s largest entertainment venue. It hosts over 400 events annually, including trade shows, conferences and meetings that are held every week, and more than five million people pass through the historic Princes’ Gates entrance to the site each year. In 2012, Exhibition Place made $4.6-million in profit for the city.

Yet, as Mr. Grimes alluded, there are people who are unsure what goes on at Exhibition Place besides the most well-known events such as the CNE, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the Fall Home Show and the Honda Indy. Both Mr. Grimes and Dianne Young, chief executive officer of Exhibition Place, said they frequently get calls from people in the community who have ideas for how the area could serve a larger or wider group of people.

These ideas are sometimes one-off projects or don’t fit with the board’s vision, said Ms. Young, explaining that the board will soon be entering a strategic planning session to discuss ideas for the site’s future. Most of the discussions will revolve around improving current facilities – for example, expanding the Direct Energy Centre, but there will be talk of new undertakings such as building a new multifunctional plaza that could contain a stage or parking spaces.

In the past, the board has rejected the idea of building residential properties on Exhibition Place.

“Our board thought it best to stick within entertainment because, if you can imagine, if you were living in a condo in the middle of this site now with the CNE surrounding you, it’s going to be noisy,” she said.

Construction of a resort-style hotel to be completed in 2014 and installation of grass at the six-year-old BMO soccer field are some of the board’s short-term goals. As the CNE begins, we reached out to visionaries across the city from different walks of life to share their creative and realistic visions for the long-term future of Exhibition Place.

Don Schmitt, architect with Diamond Schmitt Architects
Proposes an urban park that could cost at least $100-million

There’s a huge amount of new residential use around Exhibition Place with almost no park space to speak of. The opportunity with the CNE is to create a great new urban park, maybe 25 per cent of the overall area of the grounds. A 50-acre, world-stature park that could extend right in the middle of the site from the Horse Palace all the way south to Lakeshore Blvd. Have the whole park bridge right over Lakeshore Blvd. and connect with Ontario Place creating a green link connecting to the water.

A gigantic percentage of the CNE is surface parking. It should be replaced by parking structures, ideally underground, and infrastructure for better transit connectivity. For example, the streetcar which comes in just at the Princes’ Gates should connect to Dufferin Street and go north along Dufferin.

Then, move the midway to Ontario Place. It occupies a huge amount of space and that just remains surface parking most of the year. It really fits with the redevelopment of Ontario Place as a public green park.

Finally, redevelop it as a mixed-use neighbourhood with residential, retail and office space, while preserving the heritage buildings on site. All those big buildings used for fairs, conferences and trade shows can co-exist happily with a much more developed, mixed-use urban neighbourhood.

Blake Hutcheson, CEO of Oxford Properties
Proposes a world-leading health-care “hub” for the space

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