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Ford government moves ahead with plans to redevelop Ontario Place

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Ontario Place is fading into history as the Doug Ford government moves ahead with plans to turn the lakeside family playground into a “world-class attraction” that could include a casino.

The Progressive Conservative government is moving to dissolve the board and corporation that oversees Ontario Place, transferring control of its 51 prime waterfront acres to the province.

The Ford government’s move to dissolve Ontario Place has blindsided people who do business there.
The Ford government’s move to dissolve Ontario Place has blindsided people who do business there.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star file photo)

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli was asked Friday on CBC Radio about his government’s plans for the site which opened as a family-friendly theme park in 1971, but was shuttered by the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government in 2012 to save money.

“I think we want to see that become a world-class attraction. We’re going to spend a considerable amount of time looking at what we can do there to make the best use of that jewel,” Fedeli said.

When asked by Metro Morning host Matt Galloway if a casino is possible on the site south of Exhibition Place, Fedeli said: “Look, everything’s possible down there.

“I’m not saying that (casino) is one that has been discussed, because, quite frankly, it’s not one that has come up in my file, but I think we’re going to look at every single possibility to make that a world-class centre, and I would say nothing is off the table.

“We’ve got to start looking at everything. We can’t be afraid to look at a bold vision for the former Ontario Place.”

The Star revealed in September that Ford has a personal interest and plans for Ontario Place, where his Liberal predecessor Kathleen Wynne in 2017 unveiled a $30-million, 7.5-acre waterfront park on the site of a former parking lot.

For now it’s “business as usual” at the site, Ontario Place officials said Friday, with winter activities running from Nov. 23 to March 17, including an artificial skating rink on the West Island, community bonfires, a light festival and films in the Cinesphere.

During his one term as a Toronto councillor — his late brother, Rob Ford, was mayor — Ford envisioned a vast redevelopment for the Port Lands to the east, including the world’s biggest Ferris wheel modelled on the London Eye in Britain and a 1.6-million-square-foot “megamall.”

In 2013, Doug Ford told the Toronto Sun: “I don’t see why we can’t get a casino downtown,” before city councillors rejected Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.’s casino push amid a strong public backlash. “How can people say ‘no’ to this?” Ford asked at the time.

Downtown Toronto city councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton issued a statement Friday saying Fedeli’s comments raise “many concerns regarding the liveability of our city and the use of valued public lands.

“Any potential changes to Ontario Place must be made in the public interest, and must include a rigorous public consultation process. Ontario Place is for all Ontarians,” they said, adding its future must be decided “in public, not in backrooms,” and the city must be involved in deciding the site’s future

“And let us be clear: a casino at Ontario Place does not represent the responsible use of valued public lands. No good can come from it,” Layton and Cressy said.

John Tory, who authored a report on Ontario Place before becoming Toronto mayor in 2014, has not yet been consulted by the Ford government on the site’s future, his spokesperson, Don Peat, said Friday.

“He hasn’t been consulted up to this point, but the Mayor, as he said in September, wants the city and province to work together on the future of Ontario Place,” Peat said. Tory opposes a casino on the site.

Ford’s move to dissolve Ontario Place, meanwhile, has blindsided people who do business there.

Business operator Aaron Binder told the Star’s Francine Kopun that he was shocked by the decision.

Binder, the chief experience officer of a tour company called Go Tours Canada, said that he just opened a third location at Ontario Place this summer, based on the Ontario Place board’s long-term commitment to develop the area into a tech hub and small business entertainment centre.

“We are hoping that the provincial government will continue the operation of Ontario Place, so that my business doesn’t have to lay off the employees that we hired specifically to work at that location,” said Binder.

Go Tours Canada, which has one location in the Distillery District and one in Barrie, offers guided walking tours and tours on Segways.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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