When was the last time you were at Wasaga Beach?
For most of us, it was probably in undergrad (or even high school). And you likely swore on the way home that you’d never go back, as you sat in the car trying to shake off the hangover, bad decisions, and the grime that covered your body. I hear you.
Located just under a two-hour drive from the cranes and packed subway cars of Toronto, Wasaga Beach bodes the world’s longest freshwater beach. The problem is, rather than a beautiful mini-vacation spot for Torontonians, it’s become more of a cheaply made eyesore than anything, filled with tacky tourist traps and uninspiring infrastructure.
But Wasaga Beach is getting a much-needed facelift.
The new vision for Wasaga is to reinstate a livable, walkable, and more compact downtown core that can provide tourists and year-round residents with things like a public event space, retail shops, and a vibrant streetscape that will aim to become the heart of the community. Toronto-based entertainment design agency, FORREC – who is best known for designing theme parks around the world (they’ve worked on LEGOLAND Japan and Universal Studios) – is the consultant firm leading the master planning for the Wasaga Beach project.
I caught up with Steve Rhys, Executive Vice President, FORREC, to hear more about how the project is coming to life.
What is FORREC’s role in the project?
FORREC is the lead planner for the project, working with a team of experts to develop the master plan, including the strategy, messaging, and design elements for the development.
What inspired the design for this project?
It’s really about a blend of nostalgia and modernism. We know that people have fond memories of the ‘old’ Wasaga, so we want to capitalize and build on that sentiment, while also offering up a total refresh of the space to give it an new-fashioned and contemporary vibe.
What can we expect from the revitalization of Wasaga Beach?
Ontario is craving a vibrant, dynamic waterfront that’s not cottage country, and this is what the ‘new’ Wasaga Beach will be able to offer. The revitalization that is taking place is going to bring people back to this area in a big way; while the beach itself will remain the core hub, everything around it will be transformed to completely change the vibe and its appeal to local residents, Torontonians and tourists.
What features do you think will make it attractive to Toronto’s young professionals?
The changes being made are going to reflect the latest, modern version of destination tourism and the entire area will come to life with a variety of daytime and nighttime entertainment for both young single people and families. For example, on the beach there will be performance areas/stages which can be used for various types of live entertainment; North American scale volleyball courts; a picturesque promenade to take you from the urban area of the beach down to the park; outdoor activities like cycling and hiking tours, and indoor/outdoor facilities such as rock climbing, an aerial ropes course; and even a water park. In addition, this revitalization will include the complete urbanization of the businesses in the area, including restaurants and retail shops. Toronto’s young professionals can expect urban, city-like amenities such as foodie pop-up experiences with a backdrop like no other on North America’s longest and best freshwater beach. Not to mention, with Wasaga being only two hours away from the city, it’s a great alternative for a day or a weekend at the beach.
Wasaga is currently seen by some as a low-brow party town that caters to a very young demographic. How will this change?
Wasaga is looking to reinvent itself and has seen immense support from the town and the community to change its perception in order to appeal to a much wider demographic. As the lead designer and master planner for this development, FORREC is looking to create a marketplace of curated experiences for new millennials and families to be able to enjoy, on a year-round basis. Whether it’s short-term for a weekend getaway or longer-term, to potentially invest in property or develop a new business, the vision for this revitalization is to transform Wasaga into a vibrant and modern community that attracts a new audience and instills a sense of FOMO for those who haven’t yet experienced it in some way.
What do you think is the major challenge in changing the bad reputation of Wasaga to Toronto residents?
The biggest challenge no doubt will be in getting people to give Wasaga a second chance. That said, through the in-depth consultations we’ve had in the community and surrounding areas, we know that everyone is excited for what’s to come and once the redevelopment starts coming to life, Torontonians will quickly realize that there’s a whole new city escape waiting for them, only a few hours away.
What is the timeline looking like?
This transformative project is a major undertaking, so from start to finish, we’re likely looking at approximately 10 years. That said, aspects of the project are being planned to break ground in late 2019 and people can expect to see some substantial changes in the next three to five years.
What are some of the design features around the revitalization that excite you?
We’re always excited to take on projects that have a real ability to make an impact. What’s so exciting about this project is that we’re transforming the fabric of a real living community that lost its way over the years and now shaping it into its new identity.