Budweiser Gardens eyes possible renovation with help from London, Ont. city council

Budweiser Gardens. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Management for Budweiser Gardens say the facility is starting to show its age, and renovations are likely in order.

As the facility entered its 21st year of operation last October, its operator OVG360 says upgrades to its back of house space and technology for improved consumer use are needed.

Brian Ohl, general manager for Budweiser Gardens, says renovations are required to help keep the facility competitive.

“Technology and things change in 20 years, so we’re just trying to stay current and make sure it is something the citizens of London could be proud of,” Ohl told Global News.

“We are finding that some of the larger events, like the (Tim Hortons) Brier… they need more space than what we currently have.”

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During a Monday meeting, the Corporate Services Committee (CSC) received its annual update on Budweiser Gardens. Included in the update was a report from city staff outlining the expected proposal from Budweiser Gardens.

The report states a draft multi-year proposal is being finalized, with Ohl confirming the management group is planning to submit it to the city in April. Ohl said he could not provide an estimated total cost or the percentage share the city will be asked to assist with, as those details still need to be finalized.

Originally named the John Labatt Centre until 2012, “Bud Gardens” broke ground in 2001 before opening its doors in October 2002. According to city staff, the total cost to build Budweiser Gardens was $57.7 million, which includes a land purchase of just over $10 million. The city contributed $43.2 million to the total cost.

The city has just over $322,000 in remaining outstanding debt for Bud Gardens, which will be paid in 2023.

The organizational structure is such that the city of London owns the land Bud Gardens sits on, with a portion of the land leased to the London Arena Trust for a 50-year agreement. The trust, in turn, leases the building to the London Civic Centre Partnership, comprised of OVG360, EllisDon Construction and the city of London.

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OVG360 acts as the manager of the building, responsible for the sale of naming rights, advertising, attractions, the sale of suites and club seats, and the operation of the facility.

City staff say Budweiser Gardens has performed above expectations over the past 20 years since it first opened. The city of London receives a share of the net proceeds from operations each year (with a minimum payment of $50,000) and a share of the ticket sales.

While there was a total of 330,000 tickets sold for 87 events, the facility still operated at a loss of $443,000 for the 2022 fiscal year (Budweiser Gardens fiscal years run from the start of July to the end of June).

Ohl says the current fiscal year is trending better, with numbers returning close to pre-COVID-19 pandemic numbers. In 2019, Budweiser Gardens had a net income of $207,000, which meant the city received $339,000 when including its ticket sales portion.

Both Ohl and the committee report say the original builders of Budweiser Gardens expected an upgrade would be needed roughly 20 to 25 years after it first opened.

During the CSC meeting Monday, councillors supported the idea of upgrading certain parts of the Bud, with Mayor Josh Morgan citing the recent hosting of the Brier as one of the things upgrades could help lure back to the city for a fourth time.

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“At the time (it was built) it was a state of the art, there are many other facilities that have been built that either rival ours or in fact have features that ours does not,” said Morgan during the CSC meeting.

“So, I think the competitiveness is an important lens to consider proposals for reinvestment that might come forward.”

The committee voted unanimously to receive the report on Budweiser Gardens with an amendment from Coun. Sam Trosow that committee members receive a copy of the original memorandum of understanding and final agreement between the original parties at a later meeting.

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