No Vision Creates Lousy Lansdowne: BENN



How do you assure yourself of a sub-optimal result?

Start by focusing on the constraints. This applies to matters personal, corporate and government.

Early in my career, I spent a few years working for the ‘turn-around’ consulting practice within a major public accounting firm. We were tasked with devising and executing rescue plans for under-performing businesses.

The approach we took was to start by picturing what success might look like. What I refer to as ‘the art of the possible’. Next step was to review the current situation. The solution lay in solving for the differences. Add what is missing, remove what is not required. What appears to be straight forward in concept can be more challenging in execution. In particular, in understanding what constraints are in the way of implementing the plan for success, and devising a plan for how to get around those constraints. Note that the order of events matters, as it focuses on how to achieve a successful conclusion.

With that as background, let’s look at what Ottawa did and continues to do with Lansdowne. Did senior staff or the elected officials even identify that Lansdowne circa 2005 was a derelict embarrassment to the capital of Canada? Perhaps they did, but no one dared say it out loud.

When the three property developers that comprised the early version of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group tendered an unsolicited bid to redevelop Lansdowne, did this trigger the brainstorming of what a successful Lansdowne might look like? Yes, ish. But only for a brief time. There were some public musings about launching an international design competition. That was shut down quickly because … well it would take time, cost money and could preclude the OSEG partners from achieving what they wanted. Did staff or council spend any time devising a plan on how to get around those constraints? Nothing that is even remotely apparent.

Very simply put, the city focused on what they perceived to be insurmountable constraints before they had spent sufficient time developing ‘the art of the possible’. And we got Lansdowne 1.0. To be fair, there are some interesting elements at Lansdowne. The south stands show some architectural flair. The restoration of the Aberdeen Pavilion was successful, except for the failure to insulate the structure. But overall, Lansdowne is an underwhelming public facility, and acknowledged by all as a financial failure.

On to Lansdowne 2.0. Did senior staff or our elected officials of either the previous or current terms spend ANY time imagining the art of the possible? Did they look at lessons offered from Lansdowne 1.0 in an attempt to learn from them? Or did they just default to their ‘tried, tested and failed’ mode?

So, Lansdowne 2.0 is a rinse-and-repeat of Lansdowne 1.0. Will there be any attempt to make the reworked north stands coordinate architecturally with the more compelling south stands? Not in any of the artistic renderings to date. Why? Well, first and foremost, the north stands must bear the structural weight of two high-rise apartments. While many in the Glebe consider these to be a pair of carbuncles, OSEG views them as the crown jewels. Where the real money is. Add in the constraint of the north stands housing a substantial increase to the existing under-performing retail space. Note the use of the word ‘must’. This ‘must’ is a self-imposed constraint. Not a business constraint. Not a physical constraint. Not, an artificial constraint imposed by the de-facto sole-source winner of the bid, OSEG.

To be absolutely clear, the musings coming from city hall that there will be a competitive bid for the construction of Lansdowne 2.0 is an illusion. And that there will be a competitive bid for the air rights to the two residential towers. When the final design is coming from the sole-sourced architect, who just happens to be the one suggested by OSEG, does anyone really believe there will be any realistic bids from developers other than the business partners that comprise OSEG?

Why, why are we burdened with people who espouse to be in the service of the public who have no vision of what they are trying to accomplish? Why are we burdened by people who espouse to be in the service of the public who have such low standards? Where they will accept underwhelming results paid for with public resources? Results that they would refuse to accept if it were their own bank balance that was paying for the results?

And there you have it. Ottawa is guaranteed sub-optimal results because the people who are tasked with presenting a vision lack vision. Because the people who are tasked with managing the results will accept any result, as long as it allows them to close the file.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.


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2 Responses

  1. John Langstone says:

    And what housing problem are we solving at Lansdowne? Will there be any truly affordable housing on this currently city owned land? And won’t we now be building an event centre on parkland if Bill 185 denies the right of appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal? And here with many current municipal financial issues, we will take on more debt in addition to the $7+ million a year we already pay to service the debt that provides OSEG with the asset essentially free. Might the best solution now be to just throw in the towel and sell the park and let the new owners do what they want there. The park is already well on the way to becoming a high density development by a World Heritage Site. Imaginative indeed.

  2. Ken Gray says:


    As you probably know this isn’t about imagination.

    I mean if Lansdowne is as much imagination as these folks have, we’re in bad shape. Well, we are in bad shape.

    This is not about imagination. This is about profits and repaying political debts.

    It makes me ill.

    This is what our political system has become: money for interest groups and the taxpayer pays rich guys with free money.

    And then they get it all wrong.

    The rich and politically well-connected own city council and its staff.



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