The Ford government wants to bundle the proposed five-storey parking garage and the relocated Science Centre in a single public-private partnership deal that will see a for-profit consortium design, build, finance, and maintain these two new Ontario Place facilities for 30 years, according to Infrastructure Ontario documents [PDF] obtained by Spacing.
Infrastructure Ontario (IO), which is the agency handling the Ontario Place redevelopment, issued an RFP in July for planning consultants who will scope out the parameters and then oversee an international design competition for the twinned project, which, according to the government’s timeline, will be completed by 2028. The RFP for the entire project is set to be issued next July, with a winner selected in the first half of 2025.
According to a deck presented by IO last July to respondents, the government wants the new Ontario Science Centre to be “a unique architectural and energy efficient flagship facility. The P3 deal includes not just the parking garage, but also retrofits of the Ontario Place pods and the Cinesphere, a new planetarium, “outdoor experiences” and “immersive experiences.”
The ultimate winning bidder, IO officials said in the document, “will not be fully paid for construction work following substantial completion but will be paid in instalments over the length of the maintenance term. Because the Project Co is responsible for the maintenance and performance of the facility for 30 years, there is additional incentive to use high-quality and durable materials that will ultimately benefit both the Owner and the public.”
The original idea behind P3s was that governments could shift project risk to a private sector consortium in exchange for some kind of financial compensation. The deals, moreover, included a return on investment and, in some cases, equity. However, in recent years, as P3s have become more complex, the much touted benefits have become more difficult to achieve, as the much delayed and outrageously over-budget Eglinton Crosstown project has shown.
The five-storey underground garage surfaced as an add-on to the redevelopment only after the Ford government issued its 2019 Call for Development proposals, which resulted in the selection of Therme, the Austrian spa and wellness concern, as the winning bidder. Initial designs for the garage, prepared by BDP Quadrangle, indicate indoor connections to Therme’s entry pavilion, which seem intended to make the facility more user friendly in winter months.
Early plans for the redeveloped Ontario Place have left a placeholder on the space above the proposed garage, which is where the new Science Centre pavilion will be located.
The Ford government hasn’t released cost estimates or a budget for either project, or for the refurbishment of the pods and the Cinesphere. But the total outlay will be in the hundreds of millions, if not higher. With a P3 as part of the mix, the bids will include a return for the consortium vying to win this deal and provisions for the current high-interest rate environment. The contract will also need to include some formula for divvying up potential cost overruns, such as unexpected difficulties in restoring the original Eberhard Zeidler structures, as well as an understanding between IO and the winning bidder about who pays for unexpected capital and operating expenses that may crop up in building a five-storey-deep concrete box beneath the water table.
A search of IO’s project database indicates that the agency has never commissioned any kind of parking garage, nor a major cultural/tourist facility, much less a combination of the two. In that regard, this P3 will be breaking new ground. It seems likely, given the complexity of the undertaking, that the winning bid may be well below the ultimate cost of the project. What’s more, the payment formula proposed by IO is novel, and implies that the universe of potential bidders will be limited to companies willing to stick around for three decades.
photo courtesy of Adobe Stock