Ottawa’s mayor is hoping to lock down the CFL’s Redblacks and the OHL’s 67s in the nation’s capital past 2030 as the teams’ owners seek changes to their deal with the city to endure the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa’s sports commissioner Mathieu Fleury sent a letter to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) on Thursday asking the ownership group to ”guarantee the continuation” of both the Redblacks and the 67s for an additional 10 years beyond the initial eight-year agreement.
The request does not extend to the Ottawa BlackJacks basketball team, the Ottawa Aces rugby club or the Atletico Ottawa soccer team, which play at TD Place in Lansdowne Park but are not owned by OSEG.
The request comes as Ottawa council prepares to consider a report on Dec. 9 that would see the city’s partnership with OSEG to redevelop, maintain and operate the facilities at Lansdowne Park also extended by 10 years. It would also allow the operators to dip into a lifecycle renewal fund for some emergency capital amid a revenue decline exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Watson and Fleury’s letter positions a promise to field the teams for another decade as an incentive for the city to sign off on the proposed changes.
“We are convinced that OSEG’s continued commitment to the fielding of the exceptional teams under OSEG’s ownership will play a key role as council considers the report at its meeting on December 9,” the letter read.
Speaking to Global News on Thursday morning, Fleury said that, for him, signing off on any substantial changes to the city’s deal with OSEG would be conditional on keeping sports running at Lansdowne Park.
“I want a sport commitment,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also complicates the timeline of OSEG’s existing commitments to field the teams, Fleury said.
OSEG had two years remaining on its initial eight-year commitment before the pandemic forced sports leagues to shutter or cancel their 2020 seasons outright and uncertainty remains heading into 2021. Any foregone years might be added on to the tally when sports are safe to resume in Ottawa, Fleury said, with an additional 10 years tacked on should OSEG accept the proposal in the letter.
An OSEG spokesperson confirmed to Global News on Thursday that the group received the letter, but would not provide comment on the proposed 10-year extension.
The public-private partnership was in financial trouble before the pandemic arrived, killing any live entertainment at TD Place and drastically affecting the cinema, restaurants and retailers at Lansdowne Park. The OSEG partners do not expect to recoup their initial equity on the project and the city no longer expects to receive any accrued interest on the project.
The owners plan to invest another $40 million into the project but want changes to the structure of the deal, which would expire in 2054 under the plan already approved last month by Ottawa’s finance committee, to give them the confidence to put up the extra funds.
Many delegations who spoke at that initial meeting to consider the deal expressed concern with making long-term financial changes to a P3 in the middle of economic uncertainty tied to the pandemic. Others, however, saw the cost as minimal to preserve the benefits to civic life offered by the Redblacks, the 67s and the redeveloped Lansdowne Park.
One person taking exception to the letter is Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, whose ward includes Lansdowne Park. On Twitter, Menard claimed Watson and Fleury were “taking credit” for a proposal he had been working on at city hall.
Menard sent working copies of three draft motions to Global News on Thursday that he said had been shared with multiple councillors and the offices of the city clerk and manager in the past week. Among the motions is an amendment to the Lansdowne Park Plan to extend OSEG’s guarantee to run the teams for an additional 10 years.
Menard said he had heard confirmations from the city manager’s office that staff had spoken to OSEG about the proposed extension.
The other motions seek a formal business plan outlining proposed changes to the deal, to be considered by the Lansdowne Working Group, and increased representation on that group from the neighbouring communities.
Watson said he hadn’t received Menard’s motions in a statement through his press secretary on Thursday afternoon.
“Regrettably, Councillor Menard did not provide any motions on Lansdowne to Mayor Watson or Councillor Fleury. Mayor Watson engaged on this issue with OSEG as far back as November 12 and his office has been working with them since then. He is pleased to learn that Councillor Menard supports the notion of revitalizing Lansdowne and extending the strong partnership with OSEG,” the full statement read.
Fleury said Thursday he also hadn’t seen Menard’s motions before drafting and sending the letter.