Ottawa Stadium Up in the Air

Published on April 7, 2009 11:56 PM by dbo.

No positive direction came out of a City of Ottawa committee meeting analyzing two stadium proposals before council yesterday.  The staff report scoring the proposals ranked the Lansdowne Live! proposal ahead of the Kanata proposal 80% to 70%. However neither proposal received even a quiet endorsement from city staff or councilors with financing being the main topic of discussion.  While a setback to returning the CFL to the nation’s capital, there still remain two weeks before council will vote on April 22 whether to proceed further with Lansdowne Live! or look at other options for Lansdowne Park.

Over the weekend the Ottawa Citizen published a series of articles on the stadium question.  Starting with Why a stadium matters, they also provided a visual breakdown of the proposals, a quick comparison and an analysis of the funding plans behind each proposal.  These articles finally publish details about each proposal that were not explicit previously.  Still the citizens of Ottawa have a difficult time digesting the plans with plenty of numbers thrown around, unknowns in the proposals and comparisons to make.  Ideally one proposal would be enough to evaluate; stadium or not.  In the end it will be the decision of City Council to make, not the citizens.

Rather than be met with indifference and malaise from Ottawaans, this stadium debate has seen much heated discussion.  Along with valid opinions and arguments both sides have used misinformation and exaggerations to support their arguments.  I want to highlight some of the published opinion pieces here.

In other news, Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien stated maintenance of Lansdowne Park will cost an additional $20 million over the next 10 years.  Years of ignoring maintenance of the stadium and arena in the Park have taken its toll, with an engineering report stating the stadium and connected north side stands are in worse shape than previously thought.

Aware that I am not completely cognizant of all the facts, I have these points to make based on the new developments.

  • The Lansdowne proposal is based on city request for a public stadium with no ongoing costs.  Therefore, a publicly owned stadium/arena that will be managed by the developers. The developers will absorb 100% of losses and profits from operation (and will be paying rent to themselves, not the city) of the Park which currently operates at a loss today.  Jeff Hunt did state in a radio interview that the possibility of returning profits over a certain return on investment to the city could be negotiated.
  • The developers have estimated the stadium refurbishment to cost $97 million and have guaranteed cost overruns, providing the city with a fixed cost even if their $125 million estimate comes true.  A fixed construction cost these days is very rare and should be jumped at.
  • To pay the $97 million required for the stadium, the developers suggest the city borrow it over 30 years.  The payments on the loan would equal the $4 million a year they pay today for the upkeep of Lansdowne Park.  The city may be concerned of about essentially replacing one ongoing cost with another, but this is a capital cost that is discharged in 30 years or less.  This seems like a very smart way to pay for the stadium while not affecting any other project.  If a little federal or provincial money can be stirred up, this would help reduce the initial principal.  If council and city staff can’t understand this, they need to get out of the public service.
  • The city gets $125 million of commercial development at Lansdowne Park, helping it turn it into a more attractive, greener park.  However, public spaces like the aquarium, amphitheater and amateur sports fields would need to be funded by the city.  These could be developed later or not at all or other assistance found to construct them.  While it would be noble of them, expecting the developers to fund these costs which provide no return does not take into account their business nature.
  • Saving what is left of the stands and the stadium seems like a proper thing to do.  If the stands and arena are in bad enough shape to not save, evaluating the location would be prudent.  Separate plans for Lansdowne Park with retail and residential development could help fund a new stadium and arena elsewhere.
  • Deciding to demolish the stands/arena and forcing the Ottawa 67’s into the over sized ScotiaBank Place is a poor idea and may cause the demise of the storied franchise.  That certainly should be a factor in the decision to redevelop the existing site or build at a new location.  A new junior sized arena should be considered required at a cost of $65 million.  Is that over what it would take to repair the current Civic Centre as part of this project?
  • Worrying about asking for provincial and federal funding that may cut in to funding foe transit when the transit project is long-term and will cost $2.1 billion for the first phase.  Fully funded, that stadium’s $100 million hardly makes a dent in the transit budget, but the stadium is a quick win that requires a response now.
  • Council and city staff have to realize that a decision is required now for this project, whether it be redevelop stadium at Lansdowne or demolish and build elsewhere, but the opportunity is about to pass them by and deferring will not solve the problem that they have at Lansdowne, but may leave them without a Jr. hockey team and the chance to ever have a CFL team again, not the image they want for the nation’s capital.
  • People still cling to the same exaggerations about the CFL, how it has failed in Ottawa twice and so is doomed for failure, how the CFL is teetering on the brink of folding, and how Toronto cannot attract any fans.  In fact, the conditional franchise owners and their stadium plan is what sets them apart from previous owners who failed, the CFL is as strong as it ever has been and will be a force in Canadian sport in the future, and Toronto averages close to 30,000 fans, numbers that certainly would have prevented any previous Ottawa franchise from failing.

Based on what the City of Ottawa desired, the developers of the Lansdowne Live! plan have provided an attractive option with cost certainty, financing options and an attractive park in the centre of the city that will attract people for many activities.  If that is not the desired plan now, I am sure other options can be developed, such as putting the stadium at one of the other central locations and redesigning Lansdowne for something else.  Other cities have partnered their stadium development with universities so that may be an option.  The stadium still needs to be paid for, though, and taking down the existing structures will cost as well.  The fact is there is not much time; a year has been spent already and working with the plan on the table and hammering out the details to the liking of the city seems to make the most sense.  The decision council needs to make first is stadium or no stadium and location.  There is no commitment needed to the details of the plan; the details will be open to discussion once the direction is set.

Coming up in the near future, CFLdb will have a multi-part series on the stadium question across the country.  Watch for it coming soon.

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Ottawa Stadium Up in the Air was published on April 7, 2009 11:56 PM by dbo.

1,435 words.

This article is categorized under Stadiums and tagged with lansdowne-park and ottawa.