ontario place

People in Toronto are calling out TIFF for partnering with the group privatizing Ontario Place

The impending revitalization of Ontario Place has become an extremely hot button issue in Toronto, where residents are infuriated that the 155-acre waterfront property — which has been largely out of use for more than a decade — is being taken over by private entities rather than turned into a fully public space.

As the plans for the site unfurl, people continue to take issue with the lack of public input on the project, especially by Therme Group, the Austrian company behind the anchoring feature of the attraction: a sprawling luxury spa with waterslides, botanical gardens, saunas, and more, which will charge over $40 admission per person.

It will also almost definitely include a giant parking lot, if Therme's other locations worldwide are any indication.

While the construction of the $350-million glass-domed recreational facility will also include a public beach, parks and an enhanced pedestrian and cycling network, these free-access spaces will amount to only eight acres of Therme's development, though it is touting a tagline of "Ontario Place for everyone."

And now, a prominent Toronto not-for-profit organization has gotten itself embroiled in the controversy by partnering with the group.

Toronto International Film Festival has launched an initiative called Cinematic Cities, in which it and Therme Group will "work together to celebrate the importance of art, build stronger communities through the shared experience of film, and promote the role of art and film in creating more human cities."

To do this, over ten years, the two will host a Tiff X Therme Talks series about "how art and film promote the holistic growth of healthy, engaged cities and citizenship," a cinematic arts installation, and will work to bring film into communities that may not be able to access typical TIFF programming in other new ways.

While the news actually broke back in August 2021, it seems many are just hearing of it now as it circulates on social media via one particular tweet this week, which has been viewed by 34.7k users.

Responding to the news, people appear to be raising their backs at the notion of Therme potentially using corporate philanthropy to better their image in the city.

"TIFF is happy to welcome the Therme Group to Toronto," TIFF Artistic Director and Co-Head Cameron Bailey said in a video announcing the project.

"Therme is a global leader in supporting arts and cultural programming and we're excited."

That short clip goes on to reveal a few further details, including the fact that the decade-long partnership is $1 million — paltry compared to the $350 million resort Therme is building at Ontario Place.

"What is TIFF's explanation to supporting a project that will destroy 800+ trees and endanger migratory birds? As well as destroy a public park that is relied upon by Torontonians? Really want to know," one resident asked in response to the revelatory tweet.

"Any project spending a quarter of a billion $ of Ontario taxpayer money for an underlake parking garage will surely be squandering cash in other places. Likely what TIFF is looking for. Hope they don't become a beard for this monument to political corruption," another chimed.

And one in obvious opposition of the Therme takeover went as far as saying that anyone who goes to a TIFF screening or event is "supporting this destroying of the city."

"Time for a boycott," they wrote.

Of course, though the majority of the reaction to both the TIFF x Therme partnership and the Ontario Place makeover in general has been negative, there are those that are in support of the project, which Premier Doug Ford promises will make the delapidated site into a "world-class, year-round" destination that will attract millions of visitors a year.

Of course, this was before one of the key players, Quebec-based Écorécréo, bowed out of the project, taking its concept of a massive adventure park with it.

A representative from TIFF told blogTO, regarding their partnership with Therme, "TIFF’s philanthropic relationship with The Therme Group began during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, from a mutual interest in exploring how cinema both reflects and helps to shape cities. At that time, TIFF was focused on the retention of the Cinesphere theatre at the site, which has been confirmed."

Lead photo by

Therme Group

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