The circus is coming to town.
Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that Ontario Place is partnering with Cirque du Soleil, which will perform 80 to 90 shows at the provincial waterfront park starting at the end of the summer.
“While we keep one eye on the long-term development of the Ontario Place site, our government is also working to help people reconnect with this iconic piece of property on Toronto’s waterfront,” Ford said in a statement.
“I can’t think of a better suited and more internationally recognized company than Cirque du Soleil to partner with and bring family-oriented entertainment and excitement back to Ontario Place,” he said.
Ford’s government is currently seeking expressions of interest to redevelop 155-acre Ontario Place, home to the Cinesphere, the world’s first IMAX theatre.
Cirque du Soleil will perform the show Alegría from Sept. 12 until Nov. 3 in the area east of the Budweiser Stage and west of the Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail.
Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Tibollo, who has criticized the park for being past its prime and in “shameful” condition, praised the Canadian entertainment behemoth for playing ball.
“Partnering with an organization like Cirque du Soleil will reinvigorate a space that has been neglected and underutilized,” said Tibollo.
“Bringing high-profile programming like this to Ontario Place will also allow us to explore further short-term activations elsewhere on the site to help attract visitors from Ontario and abroad.”
The firm’s Finn Taylor, senior vice-resident of touring shows, said they “are excited to bring back a Cirque du Soleil touring show to Ontario Place.”
Taylor praised the venue as “an important location for Ontario residents renowned for its large-scale entertainment events.”
The fact that Cirque du Soleil is a Las Vegas fixture may not alleviate concerns from some quarters that Ford might try to bring a casino to Ontario Place.
But sources, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive negotiations, emphasized the short-term agreement with the circus giant was initiated by the previous Liberal government, which opposed any waterfront gambling palace.
Last month, Ford allayed fears by saying he wants to see a rejuvenated Ontario Place, much of which was closed by former premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2012.
“We want to make it a world-class destination. We want to see what is coming in around the world for great ideas and nothing is in concrete right now, but we’re working with the stakeholders, working with our partners and … we’re going to do something just incredible down at the Exhibition grounds and at Ontario Place,” he said.
“But we aren’t moving forward with anything without proper consultation with all stakeholders. There is over 100 acres to make something out of this world that’s going to be family-friendly.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie