Councillors find ‘compromise’ as city mulls handing over public programming at Ottawa park

TD Place seen from Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, Ont., on July 5, 2016. The site's operators will field the Ottawa Redblacks here for an extra 10 years if city council signs off on changes to their deal on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

UPDATE: Ottawa city council received the Lansdowne partnership plan update on Nov. 27, 2019 and carried Coun. Matthew Luloff’s motion asking staff to begin “exploratory discussions” about a possible transfer of  publicly-run programming to OSEG.

Councillors on Ottawa’s finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) have asked city staff to launch “exploratory discussions” and community consultations about handing over publicly-run programming at Lansdowne Park to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), pressing the brakes on the recently-proposed plan.

OSEG – which owns the Ottawa Redblacks and the Ottawa 67’s – first floated the idea of taking over the City of Ottawa’s day-to-day operations of Lansdowne’s public spaces to city staff in late September, and staff in turn asked for FEDCO’s blessing on Tuesday to begin negotiating that transfer.

The plan rattled many residents and the councillor for the area, Shawn Menard, who said he couldn’t support an “unsolicited proposal” without a business plan and when there had been “zero” consultation with either the community or Lansdowne Park vendors.

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“I think what we reached here was a compromise and I was happy that my council colleagues were able to support that compromise,” he said of Tuesday’s outcome.

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Under a 30-year partnership plan approved by Ottawa city council, OSEG is responsible for operating the stadium, arena and parking garage at Lansdowne Park, which underwent a massive redevelopment between 2012 and 2014. OSEG also manages commercial leases and “the public realm throughout the retail and residential portion of the site,” according to a report prepared by city staff.

A handful of people in the city’s recreation and facilities department, meanwhile, are responsible for programming, rentals and “overall management” of the Urban Park component of Lansdowne, which includes the Horticulture Building, Aberdeen Pavilion and Aberdeen Square.

In their report, city staff said they support OSEG’s proposal to revise the public-private partnership “in principle.”

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“Their proposal would consolidate operations, programming and facility bookings, providing one point of contact for the public while maintaining the commitments to community programming,” the report said.

“They believe this will help enhance the Lansdowne community and visitor experience as a regional gathering place and sports and entertainment venue and help to increase the annual attendance on the site from [four] million to approximately [five] million.”

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One in three people in Ottawa have never visited Lansdowne Park and there’s many days where there are no activities going on at the site, OSEG President and CEO Mark Goudie said Tuesday. He told councillors that OSEG has significantly more staff and thinks it can “broaden and enhance what’s happening at Lansdowne.”

After close to four hours of discussion and questions, councillors voted unanimously in favour of a motion that essentially extended the process to consider a transfer, tabled by Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff.

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“We’re giving all parties the time that they need for an informed and intelligent discussion to make Lansdowne Park into a greater people place than it already is,” Luloff said.

Specifically, Luloff’s motion directs staff to begin “exploratory discussions” on a possible transfer that would be “preceded and informed by public consultations.” The motion gives staff room to come back to FEDCO by mid-2020 with either a rejection of OSEG’s offer or a negotiated agreement.

Speaking with reporters after the vote, Goudie said Tuesday’s outcome is what OSEG “asked for” from the beginning.

“We sent the city a proposal to get into a dialogue around what we all want, I think, which is to to make a better Lansdowne.”

“I think that’s where we’re headed and that’s awesome,” he said.

“The city doesn’t tell us what goaltender to play for the 67’s,” he added when asked whether the revised motion was a disappointment. “How [city officials] go about figuring out how we get to the place where we need to, that’s their business and we’re happy to comply.”
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Mark Goudie is CEO and President of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). Beatrice Britneff / Global News

Luloff’s motion, crafted in collaboration with Menard and Mayor Jim Watson also set out the following five parameters for discussions and consultations on public programming at Lansdowne:

  • that the Aberdeen Square and Aberdeen Pavilion will continue to be used as venues for the Ottawa Farmers’ Market;
  • that the urban park will “continue to play an important role in supporting municipal special events”;
  • that the current rental rates for “community events, bookings and programming” will be protected;
  • that the current rental rates for community use of the Horticulture Building will also be protected;
  • that the cost to the City of Ottawa won’t increase “beyond inflation” and the ownership status won’t change.

Goudie told reporters afterward that OSEG had never proposed acquiring the public site.

“We never had that conversation. It’s not feasible,” Goudie said. “The city needs to retain those assets. The football stadium and the arena that we play in, they’re city assets and they’re city-owned right now so we’re envisioning a similar structure to that.”

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Dozens of residents show up to meeting

Dozens of people packed the council chambers at Ottawa city hall for the start of the committee meeting, including residents of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South neighbourhoods and representatives of groups that rent and use Lansdowne’s public spaces.

Luloff’s motion was only tabled as debate got underway and so most of three dozen people who showed up to speak welcomed the update and the move to kickstart public consultations.

READ MORE: City gets into the 67’s spirit, renaming Lansdowne street after hockey team

Councillors heard several calls for the park to remain “people focused” while others pushed for more details about how facility bookings for public spaces would work under OSEG.

Catherine Knoll and Peter Sutherland, who run the “613flea” flea market held in the Aberdeen Pavilion, wanted to know if there would be “recourse” to appeal a decision by OSEG to reject an event.

“Will there be any transparency and accountability in this system?” Knoll asked.

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Speaking to reporters, Menard said he doesn’t buy the argument that OSEG could do a better job of running the public programming at Lansdowne.

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“I think that site is run very, very well right now, in terms of the budget, in terms of the events that are held there,” Menard said.

“We can always make improvements … We want to see some improvements here and there, but generally I don’t think OSEG has any experience in running a public park. That needs to be considered in all of this.”

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