North-side sucks, and so does the arena at Lansdowne, report says

·4 min read
TD Place arena needs to be replaced with a 5,000-seat event centre — about half the size of the current arena, according to the city report. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)
TD Place arena needs to be replaced with a 5,000-seat event centre — about half the size of the current arena, according to the city report. (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa city council should look into rebuilding the 54-year-old north-side stands at TD Place stadium, as well as replace the former Civic Centre with a scaled-down new arena, and add housing on top of it all to improve the long-term viability of Lansdowne, according to a new city report.

The report from city staff encouraged "demolishing the existing arena" and north-side stands with an "entirely new structure."

The report also calls for, among other things, the safety of the Lansdowne site to be improved for pedestrians and cyclists, for public areas to be more welcoming by adding more seating and shade, and to install more air conditioning in the Horticulture Building.

The report will next go to the finance and economic development committee on July 6 — and then to full city council the following day.

Staff have asked city council members to only agree to a more formal proposal for the re-imagining of Lansdowne, which means there are no cost estimates attached to this report. However, the city would likely be asked to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the new project.

Taxpayers have already spent $210 million on Lansdowne, including $135 million to renovate the stadium and another $75 million for the city-run urban park, which includes the Horticulture Building and the Aberdeen Pavilion.

If council gives the idea the green light, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) is expected to prepare a formal proposal, which the city would review. The public would also be consulted in the fall on possible changes to Lansdowne.

The current timeline has a memorandum of understanding coming back to council early in 2022 and if the city and OSEG can agree, a final deal would be brought to council early in the next term.

Lansdowne needs 1M more visitors

The preliminary plan to re-think Lansdowne comes just seven years after it was redeveloped. This is because the city's business partner, OSEG, rang the alarm bells last year. They run the commercial sector, the arenas and own the sports teams that play there.

COVID-19 hammered OSEG revenues, as pandemic restrictions led to the cancellation of events and shut down much of the commercial activity at Lansdowne for large swaths of the last 15 months.

OSEG also struggled well before COVID-19 hit posting an $11-million loss for its previous fiscal year that ended March 31, 2020 — red ink that was not pandemic-related.

OSEG has always maintained it needed five million people to visit Lansdowne every year to make it financially viable, but was one million visitors short in 2019, and is looking for ways to induce more people to come with new attractions, events and ambiance.

"Lansdowne Park should be a cornerstone in a true live, work and play 15‐minute neighbourhood and to be successful, the site needs sustained activity in all seasons," according to the report.

Brian Morris/CBC
Brian Morris/CBC

North-side stands obsolete

When the city entered into its partnership over Lansdowne almost a decade ago, it spent $135 million to renovate the stadium, which remains publicly owned but is operated by OSEG. The city was forced to replace the decrepit south-side stands, but kept the north-side ones to save money.

Engineering reports confirm the north-side stands, built in 1967, are structurally sound, but they have a long list of problems.

The arena ceiling leaks. There are persistent mould outbreaks. There aren't enough washrooms on Redblacks game days, and there isn't enough accessible seating. It's also not energy efficient.

The age and design also means the former Civic Centre, now TD Place arena, no longer meets the current standards and technical requirements required for many sports and music events, the report says.

It's currently not possible to host events in the stadium and arena at the same time.

"Concessions are small, below requirements of a modern facility and lack proper ventilation, creating inefficiencies in food services and offerings," the report adds.

A new north-side complex could including a 5,000-seat event centre — about half the size of the current arena — which is more appropriate for junior hockey games played by the Ottawa 67's, as well as for "mid-sized music and cultural events."

Adding market-rate housing on top of the structure could help pay for it, and would bring more residents to the site who would be more likely to spend their money at the shops and restaurants at Lansdowne, the report added.

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