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Readers have lots of ideas for Ontario Place redevelopment

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Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association, remembers attending a reggae concert at Ontario Place when she was a teenager recently arrived from Jamaica, and the way it brought people together.

“I came to Canada in 1979, when I was 12. And I remember going to Ontario Place with my family as a new immigrant, and seeing Peter Tosh play.

Nadine Spencer remembers how attending a concert at Ontario Place when she was a child helped her feel connected to the city, and wants new generations of residents to have the same experience.
Nadine Spencer remembers how attending a concert at Ontario Place when she was a child helped her feel connected to the city, and wants new generations of residents to have the same experience.  (CECIL / NI Photography)

“It wasn’t just Jamaicans. Everyone was there … from all different races, and there we were, sitting on the grass, eating and dancing and just celebrating.”

The memory of that day is with her still, at 50, and Spencer wants to see newcomers have the opportunity to enjoy the same kind of experience.

“I think Ontario Place should be a space where people meet, where families meet and communities meet and we get to know each other and learn from each other — maybe this is just a part of the solution to the bigger issues in the city, to have a space that’s inclusive,” said Spencer, who is also CEO of BrandEQ Group Inc., a global marketing and communications agency.

We reached out to followers on Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and put calls in to people we thought might have something informed, fresh or profound to say.

The ideas were silly and solemn and earnest and out there.

A theme park for cannabis. A penal colony. A beer garden with a retractable roof so it can be used 365 days a year, with a rotating selection of Ontario craft beers on tap, Ontario wines and spirits, and paired with local restaurants for snacks.

Blue Jays fan Robert Fulton proposed an open-air baseball stadium for the Blue Jays, with the city as a backdrop, pointing out that cities in the U.S. have been building popular new parks that hearken back to a different era, pointing to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park as an example.

“The throwback-style parks MLB has been building the last 20 years or so are so beautiful — they alone bring people out,” said Fulton, who has visited Pittsburgh three times since PNC Park was built.

“Whenever I see baseball highlights on TV from PNC Park, the glimpses of Pittsburgh are so nice it made me want to visit the city,” said Fulton.

“We all know how beautiful Toronto is and showcasing it that way is free tourism and advertising.”

Preserving Ontario Place as a park was the most popular response on social media. Many people mentioned the importance of better transit links to the site, including a shuttle from Union Station. There was strong support for keeping the existing structures on the property — the Cinesphere and the pods — and also for adding restaurants, festivals and a marketplace. A couple of people spoke up in support of a mall or casino, but not a majority.

“I bristle incandescently at the thought of a mall or casino rendering yet more prime land to soulless commercial ghetto,” said Cavan Campbell, @CCamOperator, on Twitter.

Water sports were mentioned often, including canoeing, kayaking, sailing and a log ride for kids.

Urban planner Joe Berridge, partner at Urban Strategies, with planning experience in the Ontario Place and Exhibition Place area, envisions it as part of a new convention centre including Exhibition Place to the north, replacing the existing Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Front St.

Ontario Place would provide the entertainment and relaxation elements of the convention centre site, preserving the Cinesphere, the islands as parks and the pods as event venues.

“They’re beautiful buildings inside and they have glorious views,” said Berridge, adding that it’s crucial to redevelop the site hand-in-hand with Exhibition Place, which has the transit connectivity and activity needed to rejuvenate and connect Ontario Place.

Berridge envisions hotel, retail and entertainment uses on the existing Ontario Place parking lots, including a winter spa.

Phil Myrick, CEO, Projects for Public Spaces, a non-profit planning, design and educational organization, said redeveloping such a large piece of the waterfront is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Waterfronts are the single most valuable piece of any city’s land and they’re totally unique in terms of the opportunity.”

Online views:

People online had plenty to say about what they thought Ontario Place should be:

  • The magic of Ontario Place for me as a child was the ability to climb and play; the huge space. Why not re-make it into a public park, with wildlife zones, playscapes, quiet gardens; a place to celebrate the physical world. A place to breathe. Toronto’s gift to people? — Megan O’Connor, Twitter
  • Nothing commercial. Keep the William G. Davis Trail in honour of the last real Tory. Keep Cinesphere in honour of great Canadian IMAX technology. Let nature rule everywhere else. Maybe a Tanglewood style concert venue. Splice to the TTC. No parking lots — David Hammer, Twitter
  • Establish an Indigenous cultural and learning centre or university or healing truth-and-reconciliation place in order to reinterpret the name Ontario Place, bringing it back to its roots, making it a place of growth and renewal — Graziano Galati, Twitter
  • How about a boardwalk with restaurants and bars? There’s nowhere near enough patios in Toronto during the summer. Everything is packed. Good example of this is Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia — Jenn Heard, Twitter
  • Casino with a huge poker room! — Jon McKenzie, Twitter
  • Maintain the Cinesphere. Maintain as many of the old buildings as possible. Clean it up a bit and keep it going as a park. The In Future festival was truly stunning, and many of the seasonal festivals have been great, as well. I would love to see more festivals and events held there. If possible open up the buildings in the water as event spaces or restaurants. I also think it’s important to protect, maintain and expand public green spaces on the waterfront — Reddit user
  • No cars. Pedestrians and bikes only. Maybe a fun little railway to move people around the site (especially important to keep all aspects of the site accessible for those that may have issues with mobility). A gem on the waterfront that shines a light on the best parts of the province, and is for all Ontarians, where the whole province can feel at home and find something fun to do (ideally at all times of the year): regardless of their financial means, age, etc. Toronto is the provincial capital. If we’re not going to play host to something that celebrates the province as a whole, who is? — Reddit user
  • I think this should be rebuilt as a mega mall. The mall should be built similar to Woodbine, Yorkdale and BCE mall. These three malls all have one great feature; why not build a mega mall that contains all of the features? Inside the mall I think there should be a Fantasy Fair, a cinema and a daycare centre. This way, it will be used all year round (as) it is set in such a great location. Everyone is welcome — Reddit user
  • Erect a GIGANTIC statue of a golfer in mid swing about to hit the Cinesphere. If you build it, they will come — Reddit user
  • How about a mega mall and a casino, with a dedicated monorail from Union Station. This will put Ontario place back on the map — James MacDonald, Facebook
  • Make it into a complete entertainment strip with hotels, restaurants, shops, whatever else — Joshua Rubinger
  • Bio dome with aviary and planetarium — Eric Henry, Facebook
  • Should be a theme park for cannabis — Reddit user

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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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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