LANSDOWNE: A Critical Look At City’s Position

 

Here is a detailed examination of the City of Ottawa press release this week concerning Lansdowne 2.0.

The release is in regular italics. The Bulldog’s analysis is in boldface:

The City of Ottawa has received a proposal from the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) to strengthen the partnership (why is the city partnering with a group of developers who bring other proposals to planning committee and council? How much oversight is there on your partners? The city has a conflict of interest here) and redevelop Lansdowne to make it financially stable (financially stable for whom? Is the City of Ottawa about to declare bankruptcy when it has in its assets the tax base for an entire city of a million people. That asset rather skews the Moody’s rating) for the long term and to rehabilitate public infrastructure (rehabilitate public infrastructure … that’s a good idea. But should we be doing this now with the basic service of transit in this community hardly working and it racking up billions of dollars in debt. The city cries poor when it must fix transit but not when it ‘fixes’ a frill. A $400-million frill).

Proposal
The proposal is to demolish the existing north stadium stands and arena complex, and build a new, world-class (if you hear the words ‘world’ and ‘class’, perk up your ears. Someone is trying to sell you something. The last time we heard ‘world’ and ‘class’ in Ottawa was from the lips of former mayor Jim Watson talking about light rail. And he was right. LRT is a world-class cockup. And as for Lansdowne being world class, has staff seen Wembley or Reliant Stadium in Houston? U.S. high school football teams play in bigger and better facilities.) event centre (the event centre … don’t we already have the Ottawa Convention Centre and the EY Centre?) and north stadium stands. This new public infrastructure will make the venues accessible and sustainable (sustainable … a popular word these days. Where’s the arena green roof and what happens to the big Lansdowne lawn? They were sustainable if you owned a lawn mower), better positioning Lansdowne as an iconic, landmark site (if you want iconic landmark, see the Parliament Buildings or the Chateau Laurier or the Supreme Court not this museum to concrete). A new retail podium (what is a retail podium? Is that a place for Donald Trump to speak when he comes to town?) and additional residential units (no doubt they are non-profit) are also included within the proposal.

Project Update
Since the launch of the Lansdowne 2.0 Project, City Staff have worked to ensure a robust public engagement process has taken place (yes, chock full of questions that would make small amendments to Lansdowne and presumes the project is going ahead. Rather like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic and don’t sweat the icebergs). This has included a dedicated project website for residents to review information, a dedicated email address for residents to send in questions and concerns (given the city’s public meetings over other developments, will anyone pay attention? They haven’t in the past. Why should they start now?), four public information sessions, multiple surveys, weekly coffee chats, pop-up events, and weekly meetings with the Ward Councillor (I don’t doubt the meetings with the ward councillor … the rest? No doubt atmospherics).

The results of the City’s engagement can be found in the final As We Heard It report on the project website. (the correct name for this would be As We Were Told We Heard It) The Lansdowne project team would like to thank everyone for taking (wasting their) the time to provide their feedback.

Over the last 10 months, city staff has been working on the following:


  • The City launched it’s the planning process the required Zoning By-law Amendment and Official Plan Amendment (yes, before the project was approved by council. The fix is in)
  • The City launched its Public Engagement Process noted above (yes, see above)
  • The City initiated and completed its Request for Expression of Interest of the Property Rights (REOI) (if I knew what this was, I’d comment on it. No doubt other Ottawans are in the same boat as your agent.)
  • The City hired a third-party financial consultant for financial analysis on the 2022 funding strategy, as well as cash flow and financing projections that Council approved (the language is vague here. What exactly did council approve?) and directed staff to investigate further (don’t bother. We already know the answer).

Key Public Input
The key themes of public comments from the three public information sessions, email correspondence and coffee chat series include (there’s listening kind of and responding to it. Very different things):

 

Key Themes:

  • Density and Intensification –3 towers and potential 40 stories in height (knowing that what intensification occurs in Ottawa means nothing in deal with the global problem of climate change)
  • Green Space – Loss of green space on Great Lawn, tree canopy (yes, much of the green space is gone)
  • Transportation and Transit – Car traffic within Lansdowne, traffic on event nights, access to QED (yes the traffic is horrible on game days and not an games days … and public transit? It would be a good idea if it worked in the Glebe)
  • Active Transportation – Cycling infrastructure, pedestrian safety (yes, the area looks like a great place for a pedestrian or cyclist to be hit by a car)
  • Public Realm & Urban Park – Lack of public washrooms, insufficient shade, public art (good point on the washrooms, bladder size as you age … in an aging society … decreases faster in relation to the years you have left)
  • Financial Model – Transparency, financial risk (what financial risk could there be associated with $400 million?)
  • Retail and Entertainment – Lack of local vendors (Lansdowne 2.0 will correct this?)

Key Changes
As a result of public feedback, financial due diligence, expert 3rd party advice, and proper city planning, many significant features have changed since the original OSEG proposal was received by the City in May 2022.

  • 2 mixed-use towers – The original proposal included 3 high-rise towers. The staff report limits the potential to 2 towers only (look, are you intensifying or not?).
  • 40 and 25 stories (you would think that the planning department, of all departments, would know the correct spelling of storeys when it comes to buildings) – The original proposal included 3 towers that could be up to 40 stories. Staff recommend capping the max unit number which would result in only one tower potentially being 40 stories in height (I write stories, I don’t live in them).
  • Max. 770 units – The original proposal included a unit count of 1200 units. Staff recommend capping the maximum amount of density at 770 units. This allows the flexibility of design but does not allow a second tower of 40 stories in height (see above).
  • 336 residential parking spaces – The original proposal included 739 residential parking spaces – reduction of 403 spaces and now implies a parking ratio of 0.4 spaces per unit (well that’s great, now residents with no good transit available to them can sit in their condos all day).
  • 35 parking spaces for Event Centre – The original proposal did not include any parking spaces for Event Centre. These new spaces will be dedicated to accessibility, and ease of access for events and minor sports at the Event Centre (35 parking spaces for a 4,500-seat arena. By the way, no doubt there’s a bigger arena available for rent in Kanata. A number of junior teams such as the 67’s play out of NHL arenas).
  • 27,900 s.f. new public realm – The original proposal did not include any include of public realm space. With the removal of the 3rd tower, this opens up 27,900 square feet of new public realm space (so there will be more public realm space in Lansdowne 2.0 than in what was supposed to be the completed Lansdowne?).
  • 49,000 s.f. of retail – The original proposal included 108,000 square feet of retail space, this has been reduced to 49,000 square feet of retail space (is this less or more than in the original Lansdowne)

Cost of Doing Nothing
The City has reviewed the cost of not proceeding with 2.0. It is important for residents also understand the current situation. Some of the key factors of not proceeding with making Lansdowne Park sustainable are as follows:

  • The current Civic Centre (arena) is functionally obsolete and will eventually need to be replaced (today? and isn’t there a big arena in Kanata?).
  • The stadium (TD Place) and arena (Civic Centre) are City assets, and it is the City’s responsibility to replace them. They will need to be replaced eventually (well light rail and buses are a basic service and they need to work right now. The economic effect of mass transit being unreliable is enormous. No doubt a higher cost than $400 million).
  • As they age, the cost to maintain will only increase ($400 million of maintenance? They are in bad shape).
  • The sports facilities are the most energy inefficient buildings the City owns – also increasing cost to operate (the city is not alone in having energy inefficient buildings … but if you don’t have the money, those buildings are hard to fix).
  • The Partnership with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) is not financially sustainable – year over year deficits since 2014 (I know a way the city can save $400 million).
  • Cannot assume that OSEG will continue to fund these deficits (surely OSEG came into the venture with its eyes open. Football has not been a money-maker in this town for decades. I defend the right of private business to make money. I also defend the right of private business to fail).
  • Finding another investor/operator either from the private or non-profit sector will cost the City much more than today.  We currently pay nothing into the Partnership’s closed financial system (and we get nothing from it … sometimes people make mistakes and have to pay the price for it … just ask the former employees of Nortel).
  • Could cost the City up to $400M or more to keep the old building and continue operations for the next 42 years (every figure looks big when you drag is out over almost half a century … the debt on my VISA card … and we are talking debt here with Lansdowne … can mount up considerable if unpaid over half a century).

The business case for Lansdowne 2.0 is positive (no it isn’t). The City will gain a $419 million dollar asset (and $419 million of debt) for $5 million annually in debt serving investment from the City. No other City asset has a stream of revenue similar to Lansdowne (yes they do, they’re called taxpayers) to help to fund it (taxpayers haven’t made any money from Lansdowne but have accumulated monstrous debts … so yes, the revenue stream is unique). Lansdowne Park has City owned assets that will need to be renewed eventually and the City gains, and retains ownership, of new assets – Event Centre and North Side Stands (well sure, the city pays for them … did the planning department consider giving them away? One other thing … how does OSEG expect to keep patrons with no roof on the north side. There is a reason people choose the north side over the south side. This is a false economy)

Committee and Council

Following months of engagement and review, the City will be considering the Lansdowne Partnership Plan – Authorization to Proceed to the Next Steps in the Redevelopment Report and recommendations at:

  • November 2, 2023 – Joint Finance and Corporate Services and Planning
    and Housing Committee
  • November 6, 2023 – Built Heritage Committee
  • November 10, 2023 – City Council

Next Steps
Should City Council approve of this report and continue with the project, there will be many more opportunities to engage with staff and the City (yes, and one is sure they will listen just as hard as they do at public meetings for other developments). Some of the next decision points that will come back to Council in the future include:

  • A report of the construction procurement model
  • Event Centre Site Plan
  • Issue the Request For Offers (RFO) for mixed-use towers
  • Construction Procurement tender price

For more information please visit the project webpage here.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns please send us an email at LansdowneRenewal@Ottawa.ca.

(another point, why is the city promoting this project using taxpayer money for a one-sided document like this? This is not how an open, caring and inclusive municipal government works. And why does the city protest too much?)

Ken Gray (with contributions from the City of Ottawa)

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1 Response

  1. John Langstone says:

    “another point, why is the city promoting this project using taxpayer money” is a really good question. In another example, the October City Builders from the City, contains the wording about the Schlegel development on the Riverside Hospital campus, “The City of Ottawa, Development Review staff have recently approved an exciting development in Ward 18.” “Exciting development” indeed. Question is, is it professional of City staff to be promoting developments?

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