No Casino for Ontario Place Redevelopment

After much consideration, the redevelopment of Ontario Place in Toronto will not include a casino. The Ford government also announced that there will be no condo building.

The  submission process opened in January 2019. Since then, the search for ideas and proposals for the redevelopment of the island-like space at Lake Ontario have been pouring in. One of them was the desire by developers to include a casino complete with table games and slots as a part of the makeover. However, the government has decided against it.

No Casinos, No Condos at Ontario Place

The announcement came from Minister of Tourism Minister Michael Tibollo this week. The Ontario Place redevelopment project cannot accept proposals that include casinos or condos. Or any residential developments, for that matter.

“We heard from the people,” Tibollo said, “and we’ve included that as part of the items that we did not want to see built here.”

Since the casinos and condos have been ruled out, Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton made it known that they are opening the search for proposals to potential global partners. “We do want to attract the biggest and boldest ideas from not only Canada but from around the world to how we can truly redevelop Ontario Place for generations to come,” he said.

The officials noted that most other options are on the table, such as sports, entertainment, or retail. Proposals can include a cinema, as well as the pod complex, mainland area, and east and west islands. The only requirements are the inclusion of a marina, and the Budweiser Stage remaining touched.

History in Ontario Place

Ontario Place was originally opened in May 1971. The amusement park and entertainment area features outdoor concert venue, marina, and pavilion, Cinesphere and a great deal of park space.

Connected walkways and child-oriented attractions were added over time. Nevertheless, attendance decreased continuously through the years. The Ontario government spent many years in the 2000s proposing revitalisation projects. The Ontario Gaming Commission even proposed a casino for that location, but the Toronto City Council opposed the casino.

In 2010, there was a refurbishment of the area, complete with waterpark expansion, refreshed beaches, more amusement park attractions, and Cinesphere upgrades.

However, not long after that, many public areas of Ontario Place were closed to the public in the hopes of garnering proposals to redevelop the entire park. Officials have been pondering options for nearly the past decade without a clear vision.

Why No Casino?

Not one member of the city council supported the idea of a casino on the property, and numerous polls showed that the public was not in favour. The most recent Forum Research poll showed 56% of those surveyed did not want a casino in that space.

Many people in or near the area view Ontario Place as a family-friendly area with many children’s attractions. From the amusement-type facilities to the open areas of the park, people want to preserve some of the natural space while wanting something that will keep it popular enough to sustain itself.

Premier Doug Ford’s government has been vocal about wanting to recreate the impressive attraction that Ontario Place once was. “I think we’re going to do something just incredible,” Ford said upon first opening the project for proposals. “But we aren’t moving forward with anything without proper consultation with all stakeholders.”

Some of the parameters put on the project thus far have included; no proposals requiring operating grants or capital investments for planning. Also, no proposals requiring design or construction from Ontario itself; no proposals for any residential usage; and no land sales.

And the latest obstacle includes opposition to any casino project. Ford had made that clear from the beginning, though, saying he wanted the space to remain family-friendly. Even so, it wasn’t until this week when the decision to rule out casinos became final.

Little Agreement from Public

Public meetings have produced more confusion surrounding the project. Some people want it to be a tourist destination to bring in that kind of revenue. Meanwhile, others want it to remain primarily a local attraction for Toronto residents.

Some want the Cinesphere to remain in place, and others want it replaced. In fact, some people have proposed tearing the entire space down to the ground and starting over, though there is little support for that idea overall.

As the proposal process now opens to global ideas for the space, it will likely be many more months before substantial options come to the fore.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen

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