Published on February 15, 2009 3:44 PM by dbo.
Last week the Ottawa stadium discussion came to the forefront following as statement from Eugene Melnyk and a response from the CFL. The back-and-forth between the the groups responsible for opposing stadium proposals and the CFL commissioner’s setting some facts straight received national media coverage, but also brought the Ottawa media out to cover the proposals and options in more detail.
The two proposals consist of a soccer-only stadium to be built in Kanata proposed by Ottawa Senators owner and MLS franchise applicant Eugene Melnyk and a multi-use (soccer, football) facility to replace Frank Clair Stadium around a hotel and retail complex at Lansdowne Park proposed by a conditional CFL franchise group headed by Ottawa 67’s owner Jeff Hunt. Both groups are asking for about $80 million in public funding and include fields for amateur use in their plans.
The debate tactic of Mr. Melnyk to disparage the Lansdowne plan due to its ties to a CFL franchise and therefore its riskiness seems to have backfired. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon effectively limited the spin of the comments from Melnyk’s group in his open letter to the people of Ottawa and media tour of Ottawa Thursday. Mr. Melnyk’s soccer only stance is also raising questions compared to that of Mr. Hunt’s group and the CFL that they can share a stadium with a MLS franchise. Melnyk has countered his lack of franchise (he is one of five applicants for two franchises) with MLS commissioner Don Garber stating it would be inconceivable that Ottawa would not be awarded a franchise if a stadium was built. At the same time Garber stated that sharing a stadium with a CFL team was not a successful formula while the Vancouver MLS franchise applicants are preparing to share B.C. Place with the CFL‘s BC Lions. The formula to force a city to built a sport (and league) specific stadium is all in the league’s interest and against the city’s interest. To maximize the use of the public’s infrastructure, multi-use facilities make more sense, especially in Canada and a city the size of Ottawa. Our government funded social programs makes it much more difficult for public money to go into large publicly funded stadiums for each sport for the benefit of private owners.
The Hunt group proposal and position has been very city focused. Mr. Hunt even stated he hoped the discussion would be kept outside of the sidelines, not focusing on a competition between soccer and football, but what each location and plan brought to Ottawa. The conditional CFL owners includes three of Ottawa’s largest developers and they appear to want create something for the citizen’s of Ottawa. Yet they have not forced their plan on the city. It has been open for discussion and changes. They are committed to a Lansdowne stadium as part of revitalizing that area and are not interested in developing at Kanata. Their conditional franchise set to expire at the end of March with out a lease agreement on a stadium, the CFL has hinted they will extend the agreement based on the progress so far. More foot-dragging by Ottawa city council could not only jeopardize the CFL franchise but push back or jeopardize an MLS franchise opportunity as well.
While artists renditions of proposed stadium plans are likely to undergo many changes and not turn out as nice, Ottawa has a chance to revitalize the Lansdowne Park area with a much nicer stadium, green space, aquarium and retail space. Previous generations of stadiums (like the old Frank Clair Stadium) were industrial in design and did not integrate with their surroundings. A new Lansdowne plan should attempt to do that. A stadium at Kanata, beside ScotiaBank Place, would be another industrial big box park for sports stadiums and would never be someplace people went unless their was an event occurring. A properly done Lansdowne will attract people throughout the year.
The Melnyk group is attempting to make the decision MLS or CFL, which will then force the decision on location in his favour if MLS is chosen. The decision for location should be made first and then the plan for development, developers, and management decided. Ottawa citizens want to see Lansdowne Park redeveloped, and a Kanata stadium will limit the crowd-drawing uses of the downtown park. Never mind a criteria for making a decision — it is subjective and should be based on city goals and policies for where they want their infrastructure — council need to put the politics aside and make a decision for what is best for the city as a whole.
Based on the majority of Ottawaians preferring the Lansdowne location for a stadium, council should first agree to a Lansdowne redevelopment plan. Then, if desired, additional development plans should be requested for the Lansdowne location. Mr. Melnyk should be able to propose a soccer-only stadium at Lansdowne if he wishes. The time frame should be kept short for determining interest to help speed the process along and the number of plans limited to two or three. The city should also pass a policy that they will support one publicly funded outdoor stadium, design it for the multi-use, and anyone with a franchise will be able to enter into a lease agreement. Ottawa has a great opportunity to revitalize a key area of its core, while providing a multi-use facility for professional sports and special events for their citizens. Hopefully Ottawa politicians will be able to focus on the needs of the city, not the need for one sport over the other.