A "significant number" of organizations involved in the 2019 Ontario Place redevelopment process wanted more parking at the site, so the province added a publicly-funded lot to its plans, Infrastructure Ontario CEO Michael Lindsay said on Wednesday.
During a Wednesday committee hearing on government spending, NDP MPP Jennifer French asked why the province wants to build a parking garage when the initial call for development said bidders "should consider the adequacy of parking for their" project.
"Multiple bidders, in fact, a significant number of them," said the amount of parking offered at Ontario Place and Exhibition Place "would need to be enhanced in order to suit their business needs or wants," Lindsay said.
"The change was more with reference to multiple proponents ultimately coming back to us and saying that we needed to think about investments in parking," Lindsay added. "It certainly was not only Therme that came back to us and said that that was required."
Therme is the group behind the proposed spa and waterpark at Ontario Place.
Specific details of the parking garage were first revealed when Therme and the province submitted its plans to the City of Toronto last November. Therme was chosen to participate in the redevelopment, alongside two other organizations, in 2021. One of those groups, Écorécréo, backed out last fall.
"Parking is a necessity at Ontario Place," Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said at the same committee meeting.
"Mums with three kids that will be going to Ontario Place to enjoy the Science Center or the public realm space — 43 acres of it — may choose to drive their car or take a van," she said. "The Science Center in its busiest time of existence was utilizing 1,000 spaces alone. And so keep in mind that we will have a stage that will be operational all year round," she said, also referring to the Live Nation concert venue.
The 2019 call for development said the government "will not be making any financial contributions towards the design or construction of any proposed facilities," and won't contribute "towards ongoing operations or maintenance of any proposed facilities or programmings."
The government did commit to paying for site remediation.
Therme expects the province to pay for the garage, according to a 2022 interview with The Globe and Mail. In April, Premier Doug Ford admitted the province will pay for a garage that will serve Therme, the Science Centre and the Live Nation concert venue.
"It’s not going to cost the taxpayers any money outside of us owning an asset, which is a parking lot, and clearing the land so we aren’t giving them any money,” he said.
Surma was asked at committee to release the business plan for the parking garage. She "would like to" but said she wants to wait until the government goes "out to market on a Science Centre, which would include a parking facility" in the "upcoming months."
"We want to hear from the market as to (that) and accept bids to build a Science Centre and a potential parking facility. And so I would like to proceed with that step. And I don't want to compromise government and lose our ability to negotiate and leverage our position," she said.
She wouldn't give a cost estimate for the garage, either, saying "it would compromise our ability to be able to find a future proponent to build a Science Centre facility and a parking establishment on the site."