An Ottawa committee has given its blessing to the latest proposed overhaul of Lansdowne Park, paving the way for city council to approve it in principle and launch public consultations.
At the end of a eight-hour-plus meeting Friday, the city's finance and economic development committee voted in favour of a staff report on the plan, which was unveiled by Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) last week and has been dubbed "Lansdowne 2.0."
The proposal puts forward several major changes to the Glebe urban park, which has been struggling to draw visitors, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first phase would see the Civic Centre arena, home to the OSEG-owned Ottawa 67's and the Ottawa BlackJacks, relocated from its current spot under the north-side TD Place stands. It would be reduced to 5,500 seats, in part to draw mid-sized cultural events that currently bypass the nation's capital.
Once that's completed, the north-side stands would be replaced entirely, with the new stands seating roughly 3,000 fewer fans.
Towering over it all would be 1,200 new residential units, including both rental apartments and condos. Preliminary drawings show three highrise buildings dominating Lansdowne's centre, and OSEG has vowed 10 per cent of the units would be affordable.
The entire project will cost an estimated $330 million, but both OSEG and city staff say it will pay for itself through an elaborate financing structure and ultimately be revenue-neutral.
Friday's vote allows council to, among other things, approve $8 million in spending on the next steps — which include beginning the rezoning process, seeking bids for the air rights to the towers, conducting traffic and heritage studies and launching broader consultations.
Some residents who live nearby, however, have said the ambitious makeover is proceeding too quickly, with Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard — who represents the area — arranging a public meeting last Tuesday to hear feedback.
Roughly three dozen delegates signed up to speak Friday, including Glebe residents and business owners, tourism officials, one former city police chief, and even CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
Several told committee while they supported elements of OSEG's plan, the time between its unveiling and Friday's vote was too short — and that community consultations should occur first.
With the ultimate decision on Lansdowne 2.0 falling to the next city council, the fear is even approving a plan in principle will hamstring them if they want changes down the road, said Alex Cullen, a former councillor and president of the Federation of Citizens' Associations of Ottawa.
"Adopting the decisions today bakes it in," Cullen said. "That's the fear of our members, and that's not good public policy."
"The animosity that exists toward this site is already too much," said Anthony Carricato, chair of the Glebe Community Association's Lansdowne Park committee, referencing the hard feelings that plagued the site's initial redevelopment a decade ago.
"And it doesn't help that we're given nine days to consider such a consequential change to a city-wide asset."
Carolyn Mackenzie, the community association's planning chair, suggested that nine days weren't enough to digest the complexity of the financing — which involves assuming debt up front and partly repaying it through property taxes generated by the residential units and new retail.
"Let's have a robust discussion," she said. "There's lots to like in here. I believe there's also lots not to like in here."
Menard tried to introduce a motion to slow down the process, but no one on the committee was willing to table it. He did say he would bring it to full council at the end of the month.
'We fully expect the proposal will change'
Others, particularly those speaking from business and tourism perspectives, told the committee they supported the revitalization plan and its existing timelines.
"We need more residents on-site to make a go of this, particularly during the weekdays. Our weekends are very busy," said Dean Stresman, who runs the Sunset Grill franchise at Lansdowne.
"I had hoped that we'd have more events [but] our backstage amenities for artists are outdated and insufficient. So some tours and artists will pass us by."
I'm confident that [OSEG has] a very strong understanding of what fans want. - CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie
Patrick Burke, executive director of the Glebe Business Improvement Area, said while local business owners have a variety of thoughts on the specifics, the belief in the need for revitalization is "almost universal."
As for Ambrosie, he told the committee he routinely holds up Ottawa Redblacks games as a model Canadian football experience — but TD Place's north-side stands are "dingy" and "not up to modern CFL standards."
"I'm confident that [OSEG has] a very strong understanding of what fans want and are looking for," he said.
During several hours of follow-up questions from councillors, Steve Willis, the city's general manager of planning, real estate and economic development, maintained on multiple occasions that aside from the $8 million expenditure, nothing in Friday's report is set in stone.
Willis said that money will help staff gather information about some of the concerns residents have raised and then present them with concrete answers.
"We felt it's important to not talk about generalities. We needed to give [residents] something to chew on," said Willis. "We fully expect the proposal will change. And the next council will make a series of decisions that will shape this."
If the timelines in Friday's staff report are adhered to, construction could begin on the first phase, the new standalone event centre, by summer 2023.