The Government of Ontario has signed a 95-year lease which requires them to provide at least 2,700 parking spaces within 650m of the entrance to the old Ontario Place property. The Ministry of Infrastructure has estimated that it would cost taxpayers $307M to provide these parking spaces. Source: MSN.com
Acting Auditor General Nick Stavropoulos scrutinized the contentious 95-year agreement signed by the Ford government with Austrian company Therme in 2022. Stavropoulos discovered that Ontario taxpayers could incur a "financial penalty" should the province fail to fulfill its parking commitments to the spa.
This would be an average cost of $113,700 per parking space. For underground parking this close to the lake . . . that sounds about right. But what if there were another way? What if the government could fulfill their contractual agreement while only spending $81M?
Let me tell you how.
What is Happening with Ontario Place?
First, what is happening with Ontario Place Redevelopment project? Well, if you have access to any news outlets in Ontario, you have likely heard about the plans to redevelop the lands.
The Ontario government plans to transform Ontario Place into a top-tier, year-round destination and relocate the Science Centre to the waterfront site.
Private companies—Therme, Écorécréo, and Live Nation—will collaborate on projects like an indoor water park, spa complex, upgraded concert venue, and adventure park.
The new vision encompasses a redesigned Science Centre, expanded amphitheater, public beach, restaurants, marina, and spa.
Contract with Therme
The Ontario Government signed a contract in 2022 with Therme which allows them to use the land for 75 years, with a possible 20-year extension, following a 24-month construction period. Their investment of nearly half a billion dollars includes $350 million for the private spa and $100 million for public access areas on the Ontario Place property.
As a part of this contract, the province is required to provide 2,700 dedicated parking spaces within 650m of the entrance to the development. Failure to fulfill this commitment, as stipulated in the contract, would result in a financial penalty.
Global News reported on this topic in this informative video:
2,700 Parking Spaces within 650m
The Ministry of Infrastructure estimates that it will cost $307M to provide these spaces. That is quite the price tag. However, it’s not far-fetched. As a construction company that builds a lot of parking spaces, we know that underground parking spaces are expensive.
A good rule of thumb, for the Toronto area, is that it costs $70,000- 80,000 per parking space to build underground. That assumes an efficient parking layout and favourable geotechnical and environmental conditions.
However, when you get that close to the lake you will have to deal with the water. This will add significant cost. And there are likely some extra infrastructure costs included in that estimate.
Build up, not down.
Above grade parking structures are significantly more cost effective, keep you out of the ground and don’t have the inherent risk of digging up unfavorable unknowns.
What is the cost? Our rule of thumb is that above-grade parking costs around $30,000 per parking space when the project is a Design-Build (Add $10,000-$20,000 per space if it’s not a Design-Build). For 2,700 spaces that would cost only $81M.
$81M is a lot less than $307M. Imagine if a politician announced that they are giving $226M to the public? That would make headlines. A penny saved is a penny earned.
$226M of savings could build over 1,000 units of housing (assuming 600 sf/unit and $300 per sf, which is feasible with our prefabricated building system for multi-unit residential).
650m? What real estate exists in this circle?
The contract states that the parking must be provided within 650m from the entrance of the redevelopment. That doesn’t sound like much, but that’s actually quite far.
See the image below; this shows a radius of 650m around the entrance.
There are plenty of options within this circle that would be perfect for an above-grade parking structure.
And let’s just make something clear: this development is still in the drawing stage. Redrawing the plans is not costly when you compare the millions of dollars of potential savings.
If you can save $226M, it will be worth a few thousand dollars to redraw the concepts. These aren’t construction drawings (the province would be required to go through public procurement for that).
Options for an Above-Grade Parking Structure
Let’s keep in mind the current plan for the site.
The images below were included in the application documents from the Ontario Government.
Let’s look at two main options to save some tax payer dollars.
“Parking 2” South of Lakeshore and East of the Science Centre
The first option would utilize the parking lot that is already planned for the site. It’s noted as “Parking 2” on the drawings submitted with the application.
From the image below you can see that we could build an above grade structure with 400 parking spaces per level. If you build 7 levels, this would hold 2,800 spaces. If you build 6 levels, with the 7th only being a partial level you could get to exactly 2,700 spaces.
This structure would cost $81M. It would have a nice facade, elevators, lobby, and could even include some small retail areas for coffee shops, bike rentals, or other relevant uses.
The south and east sides of the building would be absolutely perfect for solar panels. The sun exposure would be unobstructured and a large array could make a meaningful impact to power the whole property. The garage itself will not require much electricity.
We did this on the Humber College parking structure. We used solar panels on the east and south sides of the building and above the top level. This created a 750 kW array, which the college uses to power other buildings on campus.
Another potential location would be at Exhibition Place, which is also owned by the Ontario Government. This location, also shown in the image above, could have additional benefits. Depending on the lease agreement, the Government could negotiate and allow the parking structure to be used for events happening at BMO Field and Exhibition Place.
The structure would be the same size as described in the option above and would still be perfect for the addition of solar panels. The north facade could include branding and logos for Toronto FC.
In this concept, there could also be a pedestrian bridge across Lake Shore directly from the parking structure to the Ontario Science Centre location.
Kiwi Newton Parking Structures
Parking structures are a great way to utilize the limited land by consolidating parking into a small footprint, freeing up acres for more useful purposes. By building up instead of down, you benefit from significant cost savings ($30,000 compared to $60,000+ per space), and you mitigate the risks associated with excavation.
Kiwi Newton has been building above-grade parking structures for many years in North America, and we know the costs, the challenges, and the opportunities for value engineering.
Parking structures must be designed intuitively with CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles to make sure the spaces are safe and feel comfortable for the users.
This is possible for the Ontario Place redevelopment project. Imagine what the province could do with an extra $226 million. This is what is possible when we think outside of the box and above the ground.
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