Last July, Ottawa council directed staff and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) to develop a plan to make Lansdowne financially sustainable. The result is a 102-page city staff report, made public on April 27. It calls for an additional $330 million in taxpayer funds to be spent, 10 years after Lansdowne’s first makeover.
The city’s powerful Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) is being asked to give this concept “approval in principle” on May 6. This gives little time for consideration, let alone close reading of the complex proposal. Then it goes to council for a vote. Receiving approval means that work would get started right away. There would be consultations, but initiatives including rezoning for what looks like three towers, upwards of 35 storeys high, would begin almost immediately.
Is this not a train leaving the station prematurely?
A quick reading of the document suggests some good ideas for improving the public realm: cycling/walking connections, more benches and street trees. Adding some more housing and residents to the space is an idea with merit: more people living onsite means more patrons to support local retail and animate the space. The north-side stands evidently need to be overhauled, a key part of the plan. Ditto the Civic Centre. Although one has to wonder if it’s so obvious, why was this additional investment not put front-and-centre 10 years ago with Lansdowne 1.0? Seems like a costly redo for taxpayers.
Importantly, city taxpayers should take note that the financing plan relies heavily on the three very large towers. It “assumes that we direct 90% of the additional property tax to fund this project. The remaining 10% property tax uplift and the annual budget tax increases would be available for funding City tax-supported services.” Will 10 per cent cover city services (and education?) needed to support this level of intensification (2,500 more residents)? Do councillors support the assumption that annual tax increases can cover shortfalls? Is this a robust strategy?
Without an LRT link, transportation remains one of the biggest challenges. How will even more residents/visitors from outside the core reasonably get in and out of Lansdowne for large events? Have we included these transport costs? It can’t be wise to invest more public funds in event spaces if we can’t afford transportation to support them on this site.
An initial reading of Lansdowne 2.0 raises other significant issues. Focusing on some of the big ones:
• Will three very tall towers add or subtract from Lansdowne’s ambience and ability to attract visitors? What about impacts on heritage buildings?
• What’s the plan to address the existing sterile/corporate-looking buildings in the interior that don’t help attract visitors outside of large events (Lansdowne 1.0 promised a “charming and unique village atmosphere”; what happened?)
• How does the city justify reducing the usable park space, particularly when adding 2,500 residents?
• Will additional public investments in Lansdowne 2.0 complement or compete with other sports/entertainment/park facilities in Ottawa? At LeBreton Flats (on the LRT)?
• Is cutting seating capacity to result in the smallest CFL stadium a good idea for a growing Ottawa?
• What will happen with toxic soil in the berm, and at what cost?
Ottawa aspires to be North America’s most livable mid-sized city. This is a huge opportunity to reset the course so Lansdowne supports that goal. Let’s not repeat past mistakes by glossing over tough questions and rushing this through.
What would an appropriate process look like? Lansdowne 2.0 should go to FEDCO for information. FEDCO should avoid committing to a certain path (as they are being asked to do) and should not green-light work to begin now without proper public oversight. Meaningful public consultation should take place first — and FEDCO should launch these consultations right away.
Lansdowne 2.0 deserves better — before it’s too late.
Carolyn Mackenzie is Planning Chair, Glebe Community Association and Planning Advisory Committee member, City of Ottawa. Neil Thomson is President, Kanata Beaverbrook Community Association.