Ottawa: Countdown to Decision Day

Published on April 21, 2009 9:10 PM by dbo.

I have been posting developing news on the Ottawa stadium situation in the comments of the State of the Stadiums article.  This has proven to be a bad idea since the coverage has increased day-by-day and is specific to the Ottawa situation.  Therefore, I have decided to create this post to track the news reports leading up to the decision.  The decision will, of course, require an article all its own.  Each day I will link and comment on the news stories surrounding Ottawa’s decision around an outdoor stadium.

Prior to April 18th

See the comments on the State of the Stadiums post.  If you have an hour I suggest you listen to Roger Greenberg’s interview with the Ottawa Citizen‘s editorial board.  Hearing someone in their own words rather than through the filter of a reporter provides a much better insight into their motivation and reasoning behind their opinion.

Interesting information learned from Greenberg’s interview:

  • The aquarium would not cost the city anything.  Other private developers would be partnered with the aquarium company to construct the aquarium which could attract one million visitors a year.
  • After the 30 year lease, the maintained park and all development would be owned by the city, allowing them to either manage it or lease it out again.
  • The merging of proposals was a non-starter from the beginning.  Neither side could get by their principals and reasons for their proposals and the CFL franchise does not have an assign-ability clause.
  • The plan is wide open to adjustments for any concerns there is as long as the development economics make sense.  So issues like parking, location of buildings, incremental development and so on can all be negotiated once the location is confirmed.
  • As managers of the stadium, they will pursue anyone who wishes to bring soccer to the city, be it a USL franchise if no MLS franchise exists or MLS.  They will not apply for a USL franchise themselves.

Update: I missed this April 17th op-ed piece from Glebe Business Improvement Association Executive Director Catherine Lindquist.

April 18th

After editorial board meetings with Lansdowne principal Roger Greenberg this week, both Ottawa papers had positive articles on the benefits of the Lansdowne Live! proposal Saturday.  The Ottawa Citizen had their expected first of many editorials endorsing the Lansdowne plan.  Ottawa Sun Sports columnist Chris Stevenson, a Lansdowne supporter from the beginning, expressed his desire that the city make a decision next week and not postpone the decision.  Lansdowne Live! has also finally received the credit it deserves for being flexible in accommodating soccer (not just accommodating, but making it soccer first) and the design of the site.

Meanwhile, the idea that the two groups could merge proposals is dead.  A plan by Mayor Larry O’Brien for Lansdowne to be redeveloped by the CFL group with only an arena and Melnyk’s proposed Kanata stadium be used for soccer and football could not bring these two groups together.  Melnyk had no interest in the CFL at Kanata or owning a CFL franchise as part of his vision and the Lansdowne Live! group were not in a position to transfer him the franchise; Melnyk would have to make his own application to the CFL.  In the end, the Greenberg, Jeff Hunt, John Ruddy and William Shenkman group believes the best place for an outdoor stadium in Ottawa is Lansdowne Park and compromising in Kanata may be good for them, but not for the city.  As a result of the failed negotiations, Mayor O’Brien has put his support behind the Lansdowne group.

Through all of the delays and debate, Greenberg is still optimistic about receiving a decision in their favour next week.

It seems that the media and politicians and perhaps citizens of Ottawa are realizing this opportunity is about to pass them by.  If I was an Ottawaan I would be concerned about delays for more studies or a decision for no outdoor stadium affecting the city’s ability to ever attract another sports franchise.  This opportunity with the CFL is now, in 5 to 15 years it is possible their could be franchises in Quebec City and Moncton, restricting CFL expansion until two sites could be brought on together to provide an even number of teams.  The MLS opportunity is another one that may not be there in 10 years.  At least at with an outdoor stadium at Lansdowne there is a chance someone may bring the MLS or USL to Ottawa.  It appears to me that the Kanata option is dead, and council needs to decide to make a commitment to Lansdowne Live! developers in the form of a letter of understanding so the details can be worked out by September and a franchise can be fielded by 2011.

Late breaking news: Councillors are working on a motion to be introduced at Monday’s committee meeting that would see the city “enter into negotiations with a group of area businessmen to redevelop Lansdowne Park.”  The motion would require that the plan have be revenue-neutral to the municipality and has the support of three named councillors plus others according to those drafting the motion.  A competing motion is also expected to be introduced that would call for a rejection of both stadium proposals and a re-opening of the design competition for Lansdowne Park.

April 19th

More info has emerged on the motion to be introduced at Monday’s committee meeting.  This motion to enter into negotiations with the Lansdowne Live! group is the right direction as it does not commit the city to anything but allows more details to be worked.  If a plan cannot be worked out to the city’s liking, they can walk away and similarly the Lansdowne group can walk away if the city’s demands don’t make economic sense for them.  It is positive that the city is looking at options such as rent, taxes or ticket surcharges to provide revenue to the city from the park.  In addition to this protection, the councillors drafting the motion have built in 21 days of public consultation after 60 days of negotiation towards an agreement.  This direction provides public input and a process to work out the details council wants to see before they vote on the deal.  If not for the Kanata proposal, this could have been done months ago and the city would already know whether a deal could be worked out.  As it is, it appears there are at least some on council who now understand how this process should proceed.   The Lansdowne Live! group has gone through a lot in the past year but getting their location agreed to in principal for additional negotiations is a positive step, though still tight against the remaining five months of their conditional CFL franchise extension.

April 20th

The final debate began today with both groups presenting 15 minute presentations to the committee followed by comments from close to 60 citizens and question and answer period.  The outline of the meeting process was published by the Sun.  In a surprise appearance, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon presented to the committee why today’s CFL is right for Ottawa and Ottawa is right for the CFL with a solid ownership group and an updated facility.  City manager Kent Kirkpatrick also announced that neither stadium proposal would qualify for federal government stimulus spending but could qualify for other infrastructure money over the next few years.  The city has yet to hear back from the province on its request for funding for either of the projects.

It is believed that council support has grown for the motion to enter into negotiations with the Lansdowne Live! group.  The decision has been made to postpone introducing the motion until Wednesday’s city council meeting (be sure to watch the video also) to allow the motion to be debated just once.  The Bulldog Blog on the Ottawa Citizen site has a number of posts on the developing story today, including supposed text of the motion to be presented to council.  More play-by-play on the days events can be found on the CBC’s The Ottawa Blog.

As an aside, can I say how great Mark Cohon is?  He is the best public speaker/writer in this country, hands down.

Cohon’s speech to council was succinct and highlighted the successful return of the CFL to Montreal as a case study it how to return to a city.  Of course no matter what Cohon or anyone says, there will still be those who say franchises failed twice in Ottawa, insinuating it won’t work again.  Yet lack of support never really was a long term issue.  With terrible ownership and management regimes, attendance still averaged over the 20,000 mark the seasons prior to each franchises’ final season.  With a local, committed ownership group, a stadium that attracts people rather than needs to be overcome, and a competitive team the environment at Frank Clair should be an exciting and fun place to be and a championship team on the horizon.  On top of this, the city has an outdoor stadium that can be used for concerts, soccer, and special sport events like the Grey Cup, bringing more economic spin-off to the city.

The supposed motion is also interesting, changed slightly from earlier reports that it would include a clause to donate land at Kanata for Eugene Melnyk to find private investors to build a soccer stadium.  With no sign of that clause, it appears the councillors are committed to one multi-purpose stadium project.  In the motion is a clause stating no revenues from the Park be used to subsidize any professional sports teams, obviously to appease those who believe the deal will end up not only benefiting the developers, but subsidize their CFL team.  It will be interesting to see how this can be done, as the idea is that management is turned over to the developers, who collect rent from events and tenants but pay for the upkeep of the park.  If there is profit from that arrangement, is that subsidizing the CFL team?  If there is a loss, could the football team’s rent be increased and if it isn’t, would that be a subsidy?  As I am not sure if there will be a separate management company versus the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group who would own the franchise this will be interesting to see how it is resolved as it could change the whole structure of the deal.

April 21st

In the fallout from yesterday’s planning-economic affairs committee meeting, much has been written in last attempts to sway citizens and the ever important councillors voting on the issue tomorrow.  I highlight and comment on the day’s articles below.

To reiterate our position, CFLdb would like to see the CFL return to Ottawa, a new Ottawa franchise have a strong, well-supported team and win some championships.  If and where that happens is up to the citizens of Ottawa.  If that is at Lansdowne or another location, so be it, but it must be agreeable to the people who wish to return the CFL to the city.  The stadium could be refurbished at Lansdowne and the remainder of the site turned into green space or the whole site made into a park and the stadium built elsewhere at a greater cost.  All of these options have consequences.  Delays to stadium completion if constructing brand new, additional costs to create and maintain the park space and no tax or other revenue to the city from the land.  The plan that is acceptable to the people should proceed.

I am not confident yet the motion to enter negotiations with Lansdowne Live will pass tomorrow, but if it does I believe the negotiations with the developers on the details can look at all these options, and the fiscally and practical ones extracted for public consultation.

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Ottawa: Countdown to Decision Day was published on April 21, 2009 9:10 PM by dbo.

2,657 words.

This article is categorized under Stadiums and tagged with jeff-hunt, john-ruddy, mark-cohon, ottawa, roger-greenberg and william-shenkman.