Ottawa city council has set in motion a $332-million plan to tear down and replace the north-side stadium stands and arena at Lansdowne's TD Place, but the mayor says it's not council's final say before the plan moves ahead.
Councillors voted 17 to 7 Wednesday at the city council meeting to allow city staff to move the plan ahead to the design stage and complete public consultation, and Mayor Jim Watson told councillors "no irrevocable decisions" were made with the vote.
"Some people have been told that by members of council that the deal is done. That is not true," Watson said.
The vote means staff can spend $8 million to move to the next stage, which includes asking developers to show interest in buying the right to develop 1,200 apartment units over the stadium, which the city is counting on to bring in $43.5 million toward the upgrades.
The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group had unveiled a plan in late April dubbed Lansdowne 2.0, which involved rebuilding the Civic centre arena as a venue that could hold mid-sized events.
The group, which owns the Ottawa Redblacks football team and Ottawa 67's junior hockey team had been struggling financially during the pandemic, and council agreed it should find ways to boost visitors to the site to make its partnership with the city more financially viable.
Watson said the arena and north-side stands were "on their last legs" and rain had dripped through the roof of the arena during an event he attended the night before. He wished, in hindsight, that those aging facilities had been replaced when the site was redeveloped a decade ago.
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Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli even held up a piece of asphalt he had picked up at the groundbreaking back then, and said they should have been "bolder" but could make the repairs now, so no future councillor might hold up a piece of a stand or arena roof.
Staff later assured the public the buildings are safe.
Watson told councillors the city couldn't "dither" as costs would only rise due to inflation, and he pointed to critics who he believed wanted Lansdowne to fail.
The mayor also underscored that a new city council would have the power to decide not to proceed, and expressed hope it would be an election issue.
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Menard fails to halt vote
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said the city should first find out whether Ottawa residents actually support Lansdowne 2.0 before spending millions on a vision he said had been "crafted behind closed doors."
Shawn Menard, the Capital ward councillor who represents the Glebe and Lansdowne area, said the future of Lansdowne was being cemented Wednesday by approving a business case and a financial model, as well as giving the $332 million budget authority for the project.
Menard even tried to push off the vote entirely until the new city council begins its work, and public consultations were done. His motion failed.
"It's just getting really tiring, this file," said a frustrated Menard after a particularly tense exchange with the city manager.
"Every time, this is a ram through. Every time people aren't properly consulted or they're not listened to. ... And if you just did it a different way... then we'd be in a much better place."
Menard also called out the claim the proposal was "revenue neutral" for the city, calling it false. The city does plan to issue $239 million in new debt to fund Lansdowne 2.0, and service it in part with new property taxes and ticket surcharges.
Possible roof for north-side stands
After that debate, council sped through a number of motions put forward by councillors, such as asking the auditor general to review the plan proactively.
That office will also study the traffic impact of adding 1,200 new apartments in highrise towers. The lack of deeply affordable housing within those future buildings also attracted debate.
Coun. Catherine McKenney tried to require 20 per cent of deeply affordable housing at Lansdowne, saying it shouldn't only be a "playground for the rich." Council decided instead that any future highrise developer should work with a non-profit housing provider.
WATCH | Leiper opposes spending $8M on 'potentially fruitless' plan for Lansdowne before public input
The city will also now look at letting the public use the green roof on the future arena, something that's not in the current plan.
The plan also includes rebuilding the north-side stands — OSEG says this is the biggest hot-button issue for residents regarding Lansdowne — without the current partial roof because that would be expensive.
Staff will look into whether the north side can remain covered.