By Chris Leggett
It is with great frustration and continuing concern that I find Lansdowne once again coming to our attention. According to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), the business model is flawed, and a bailout is needed. A gushing waterfall of excitement, fun and funds is not to be.
Thankfully, the public park areas, the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building are successes. Unfortunately, an opaque agreement of some sort exists between OSEG and the City, which the public isn’t allowed to see. Hard to fix what you don’t know.
2006: Lansdowne is a sea of asphalt, with derelict buildings, an abandoned, crumbling stadium and several neglected heritage structures. Lansdowne is publicly owned.
2006-07: Public consultations proceed to determine what a redevelopment might look like. A survey of Ottawans shows strong support for a public redevelopment but not one tied to a professional sports franchise. Suggestions focus on community-based facilities such as a community centre, public library, an aquarium, low-rise residential and a koi pond connected to the canal. No to a casino! Increased traffic, lack of parking and no connection to the future LRT were issues of significant concern.
2008: Public consultations are stopped. Recently elected mayor Larry O’Brien (2006-10) has been approached by a group of developers who propose a single source agreement. It seems they have a CFL franchise for an Ottawa football team if a new stadium is built.
OSEG is created, contracts are signed, and the project gets the go ahead. A sports team is coming, and we are not sure what else. City council consists of 15 councillors from the suburbs and nine from the inner city and as always, the suburban councillors win. Part of the deal is that OSEG has use of the land for a token dollar!
2008-12: “Friends of Lansdowne” comes together. Citizens mount both a legal and a community-based campaign to stop the project. The local councillor is onside, a fundraising plan is put together, lawyers file objections, alternative solutions are presented. But the OSEG project proceeds. The footballers are coming, a stadium must be ready for the 2014 season.
The Aberdeen Pavilion, the Horticulture Building and now a great park are working well. The event/business facilities, not so much. The football stadium is still falling down. We have large swaths of hard surfaces, dying trees, a poorly defined area more like a landing strip than a public square named for a casino somewhere, with four used, overturned cable-spools, bales of hay, a few benches and three chairs for furniture. Sidewalks are unprotected and open to the elements. Marché Way in winter is a wind tunnel. Twenty-five of the retail tenants are national chains while only five are boutique type – remember “no big box enterprises”?
OSEG and City staff’s latest proposal consists of five main points:
- Tear down the existing Northside stands (renovated only nine years ago) and rebuild smaller stands. Clearly poor attendance requires fewer seats.
- Construct three high-rise condo towers, from 20 to 40 storeys, with about 1,200 units in total. (See the building at Carling and Preston to get an idea of the scale of this.)
- Remove part of the great lawn and toboggan hill and replace with an arena.
- Allocate the tax revenue from the new condo owners to build items 1 to 3 above.
- Allocate $330 million more taxpayer dollars to this project.
A Review of the Plans:
- The high-rise towers will increase traffic. Game-day traffic that overwhelms Bank Street now would become an everyday occurrence.
- Tall high-rises located on the south side will block the sun, casting long shadows over the site most of the day, making the pedestrian experience even harsher.
- Removing green space for a commercial arena is reprehensible. The park portion of the site is the most successful piece of the original concept; reducing it for commercial means goes against all that is progressive and environmentally sound.
- Having no connections to the LRT and limited parking hampers attendance at games and public events and is likely a reason for the project’s failure.
Council must review other locations for sports facilities, not just Lansdowne. LeBreton Flats, while federal land, is one possibility. It will likely become the home of the new Senators arena. It is looking for development, and it is on the LRT. Game-day parking could be used by both the NHL and the CFL. Bayview Yards and the federal Tunney’s Pasture are other possible choices.
Taxpayers deserve transparency! Considering the city’s incompetence in managing the LRT and now this Lansdowne debacle, secrecy is not working.
Chris Leggett is a Glebe resident and architect.
The much-used and much-loved Aberdeen Pavilion reigns as the grand dame of Lansdowne.
Photo: Liz McKeen