OSEG seeks full control of Lansdowne

By John Dance

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) is seeking control over the entire Lansdowne Park site but residents in neighbouring communities, Councillor Shawn Menard, and local community associations are pushing back in opposition to the OSEG proposals.

Currently, City of Ottawa staff manage the green eastern half of the site with its two heritage buildings, Aberdeen Square, the play and skateboard areas, the orchard, the “great lawn,” and the outdoor rink and basketball court.

OSEG now wants overall site programming responsibility for this area, in addition to the western half of the site comprising the stadium, arena, offices and stores that it already controls. OSEG’s request was sent to Steve Kanellakos, Ottawa City Manager in late September, and his office responded by drafting a report recommending that the City manager be delegated the authority to negotiate the requested transfer.

This recommendation was to be considered on November 5 by the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO), chaired by Mayor Jim Watson, and was to be considered the next day by full City council. Upon learning of this plan, on October 22, Menard hastily convened a meeting of the Lansdowne Community Consultation Group, with representation from OSEG and the three neighbouring community associations, to understand what was being proposed and its rationale.

OSEG had not previously raised the proposed takeover with this group, nor had it previously discussed changes to Aberdeen Square – such as its renaming to Casino Lac-Leamy Plaza – that were announced by the City in September.

Following the consultation group’s meeting, the Glebe Community Association with the support of the Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South associations quickly organized a public meeting held on October 28 in the Horticulture Building where OSEG presented its proposal.About 500 attendees voiced their concerns about the proposal and the lack of consultation.

Subsequently, at the FEDCO meeting on November 5, more than 40 public delegations provided their perspectives on the proposed transfer, with only two of the delegations speaking in favour of the proposition. Initiated by Menard – who like all other urban councillors is not a member of FEDCO – an amended recommendation was proposed to and approved by the committee.

As a result, City staff will now be obliged to consult with the community, will no longer have delegated authority to negotiate the transfer with OSEG, and will be obliged to return to FEDCO by next June with a report based on the “exploratory discussions and consultations”.

Mayor Watson, who chairs FEDCO and who left council chambers while most of the delegations were criticizing the proposed transfer, “couldn’t get over how many people are still fighting the Lansdowne redevelopment deal,” the Ottawa Citizen reported.

“These are like the same people that are probably fighting the metric system,” Watson said after the meeting.

The Mayor’s comment prompted Old Ottawa East residents Alan and Janet Barnes to write to him noting, “Your suggestion that those who question the OSEG bid to take over the programming of the City portion of the park are ‘the same people that are probably fighting the metric system’ is unworthy of a person in your office. Denigrating and dismissing those who might disagree with you is not what we expect from the Mayor of Ottawa.”

“The recommendation by City staff that Council authorize negotiations with OSEG to turn over programing was grossly premature,” wrote the Barnes’s.

“Whether intended or not, such a move would create strong pressure for Council to approve whatever agreement was negotiated. If this course had been followed, the OSEG bid would have had the effect of pre-empting the public discussion of the future of Lansdowne programming that was just getting underway.”

As outlined in OSEG’s letter requesting the transfer, the part of the park that the group manages is not generating the revenues that OSEG anticipated. Moreover, when coupled with additional expenses OSEG incurred for enhancements to the stadium and the arena, additional retail construction costs and higher than anticipated start-up costs, OSEG indicates it will not receive repayment of $102 million that it has contributed.

Given current attendance, the City will get none of the $60 million that it was to receive for its investment. To increase revenues, OSEG wants to attract a million more visitors to Lansdowne each year and argues that its takeover of the programming of the City’s side of the park would allow this.

Specifically, OSEG says its much larger staff (140 versus the City’s five full-time and 13 part-time) and their expertise will lead to better overall management of the park. Also, OSEG argues that having just one party managing the whole site will eliminate “confusion.”

Under the OSEG proposal, the private firm would set rental rates and fees for the City-owned facilities, but the City would continue to be responsible for all capital and maintenance costs. The City’s “baseline expense for ongoing [park] operations will, generally, be the current cost to the City of maintaining and programming …,” according to OSEG, although if there are incremental revenues, there is the potential of a reduction of the City’s operating costs.

As a result of the amended FEDCO recommendation, key protections of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and some community and non-profit use of the urban park will be ensured regardless of the fate of OSEG’s proposal. Included in what OSEG wants as “broader, more diversified and amplified programming,” are “Octoberfest, Scarefest, [and] the possible return of the Ottawa Exhibition.”

The FEDCO report noted that there were no environmental implications associated with OSEG’s taking over programming responsibilities but, at the public meeting, residents said an extra million people will affect nearby neighbourhoods.

“OSEG’s proposed takeover is an issue that affects all City residents, financially through taxes being spent and simply through the fact that this is a city park for all our residents to enjoy. All should be encouraged to become educated and involved,” says Richard Cundall, the Old Ottawa East Community Association board representative on the community consultation group.

Old Ottawa East residents who wish to discuss the OSEG proposal and upcoming consultations can email Richard Cundall at lansdowne@ottawaeast.ca.

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