City council passes Lansdowne 2.0 and the city approach to housing and social services
Photo: Under Lansdowne 2.0, the berm, currently the site of the large sculpture “Moving Surfaces” and a tobogganing hill, is to be demolished, then recreated with less public space.
Photo: Liz McKeen
Councillor, Capital Ward
Last month, council took another step towards approving the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal, with decisions to come on the procurement model and an Auditor General’s report. This is a complex deal, but here are the basics. The project cost is estimated at $419 million – not including various associated costs. With interest, taxpayers will pay $656 million over the 40 years, $16.4 million a year. But this is only an estimate. Prices could still go up.
The project will see the demolition of the north side stands, arena and the adjacent retail building (“J-Block”), which currently houses multiple businesses, including GoodLife Fitness.
A new arena, with a capacity of 5,500 to 6,500, will be built by the eastern end of the stadium where the berm currently sits. The berm will be demolished, and we will lose some public space adjacent to the hill. Despite some talk of eliminating the berm and sledding hill, we passed a motion directing staff to re-create the hill and ensure the artwork currently on the berm, Moving Surfaces, remains at Lansdowne.
A smaller grandstand will replace the north side stands, with about 3,000 fewer seats and a 900 more standing-room spots. Behind it, two 40-storey towers will be erected, with a retail podium underneath. The air-rights for the towers will be sold to a developer.
We passed a motion directing staff to explore adding a covering to the new north side stands to improve the fan experience.
Thankfully, council rejected the city’s plan to avoid affordable housing obligations, instead devoting 25 per-cent of the sale of the air rights (approximately $9.75 million) to affordable housing, and more as well should the air rights sell for more than expected. I’m disappointed council did not ensure dedicated affordable housing units be provided at Lansdowne, as we have done with other developments in the ward.
Disappointingly, the plan offered no transportation strategy or any concrete plan to improve the public realm of the site, despite promises to the contrary throughout this whole process.
At the meeting, we were able to begin rectifying these oversights: adding specific transportation upgrades to the city’s Active Transportation Project List, making them eligible for funding; instructing staff to review day-to-day transit service along Bank Street, including potential promotional fares and increased service; directing staff and OSEG to collaborate on a strategy for providing appropriate transportation for medium and large events; directing staff to investigate closing off Aberdeen Square to cut-through traffic; and including transportation demand management criteria when the city sells air rights for the towers.
We passed motions prioritizing popular public realm improvements that can be included in future budgets during the construction phase and that directed staff to collaborate with the NCC and Parks Canada about improving connections to the canal, including boat-up access and a new Pedestrian Crossover on Queen Elizabeth Drive.
Despite these important victories, the overall project is disappointing, saddling residents with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt just to replace a stadium and arena that still have decades left in their lifespan.
This decision will haunt this council and our city. We carry more financial and legal risks with the new deal. Residents and local businesses will suffer through 10 years of construction. It is dispiriting that this is what the city prioritizes.
Human Needs and Safety Discussion
Recently, our office held a meeting with representatives from the BIA, the GCA, GNAG, the Ottawa Police, the Centretown Community Health Centre and city staff to discuss issues regarding homelessness, public safety and social supports for our street-involved neighbours.
There was much discussion about the Second Avenue parking garage and safety improvements that are happening there. Security is being improved, with a new contractor selected and a review of the activities of security guards.
The city established the Safer Alternative Response for Mental Health and Substance Use Crisis Team, which tasks mental health professionals with providing services to residents in need. The team will be launching in spring of 2024 as a pilot in Somerset Ward, and we will work to expand it into the Glebe.
The 2024 draft budget includes $33.5 million in Municipal City Homelessness Funding. This is a start, but concerns are increasing for human needs across Ottawa and the country, with overdoses increasing, shelters overflowing and a lack of proper government investment in this priority.
We have pushed for reallocation of funding to these issues. Somehow, we have $419 million for a non-emergency stadium, but not enough to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our community.
Shawn Menard is City Councillor for Capital Ward. He can be reached at CapitalWard@ottawa.ca.