Critics describe the Lansdowne Live project as a sweetheart deal for developers, in which the city provides all the land (a public fair ground with stadium) for $1 a year for 30 years, puts up $130 - $173 million and carries much of the financial risk – while the developers are given control of the centrally located prime public land and stand to benefit for 30 – 70 years.
The project has been roundly criticized by independent experts across the country as violating the principles of sound development. It violates the city’s own official plan and planning processes and is opposed by eight of the city’s own advisory committees.
At a time when all other major Canadian cities are transforming their downtowns by expanding public areas – e.g. Toronto’s Waterfront and Edmonton’s former airport lands – Ottawa’s Mayor and Councillors are going in the opposite direction: handing over prized downtown public lands to development.
The promotion of the project as a sports initiative is widely seen as a ‘bait and switch’ tactic in which sports fans are lured by the promise of a stadium for CFL games, while the main thrust of the project is strictly commercial: to build a shopping mall, cinema and condos.
The process being used by the city to push the project forward is seen as deeply flawed, with conflicts of interest concerns, as well as ethical and legal considerations. An initial design competition approved by Council was suddenly halted and replaced by an unsolicited single proposal from a consortium of business people- disrespecting the city’s competitive bidding process as well as the principles of sound stewardship of public funds. Since then, the city has promoted the project without appropriate consideration of alternative proposals.
People across the city have joined forces to fight against the project. The Friends of Lansdowne started with a few community associations located near the Lansdowne development and has now received support from groups all across the city, including the Federation of Citizens Associations of Ottawa-Carleton and the Rural Council of Ottawa-Carleton. Rarely have urban, suburban and rural groups worked together so closely on a single issue. And the range of those involved is striking: architects and bankers are working with farmers, unionists and stay-home moms.
The Friends of Lansdowne have organized public meetings, held rallies, conducted research, commissioned polls, and spoken out in the media against the proposed development. So far, they have succeeded in delaying the project, but they fear that the majority of councillors are not paying attention to the public they serve.
Eight of the city’s own advisory committees (listed below) either oppose the project outright or have called for a halt to allow for investigation of their concerns. Moreover, two groups of academics have published papers questioning the process. As the partnership agreement is examined more closely, the fine-print reveals further areas of concern, including the City’s declaration of 12 acres of public land as ‘surplus’, thus meaning that it could be sold outright (possibly without competing bids) at some point in the future – should council so direct.
The province has pledged not to support the development project because of concerns about the process being used. Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi announced on June 25th: "I have had problems with the process around this project right from the start. The Government of Ontario will not be funding this Lansdowne proposal".
A number of concerned citizens and community groups have pooled resources to hire a prominent public advocacy lawyer, Steven Shrybman of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, to review the legal framework surrounding the city’s activities. Mr. Shrybman will outline the key points at a press conference on Friday June 25th.
Local community associations say public consultations on Lansdowne have been cursory and superficial. Since 2008, when the developers first submitted their unsolicited proposal for Lansdowne Park, the City has refused all invitations from the local community association to attend public meetings related to Lansdowne (although they are happy to consult on any other subject). When city staff organized what was called a public consultation in September 2009, residents were so infuriated by the lack of an opportunity to say anything that someone went home, got a megaphone, and people took turns standing up on a chair with the megaphone to speak their minds.
In the last month, the City has released new designs for a major shopping centre and condo development and thousands of pages of related studies, yet has not held a single public meeting to hear from citizens. People who saw the designs were surprised to find that there was not even a comment sheet provided. The City decided not to follow its normal process of having committees review projects before going to Council.
And yesterday during public delegations, in an unusual procedural manoeuvre, Council passed a motion reducing quorum from a base of 23 to only 14 – thus marginalizing the voice of private citizens who had made the commitment to speak to council about this issue.
The bottom line is that Lansdowne has become a symbol of all that is wrong with governance in the City of Ottawa. This controversy is no longer just about a questionable development project. It is about whether the Mayor, councillors and city staff are still working to serve the interests of Ottawa's citizens – or have lost sight of this ideal.
In 2007 there was recognition across the city that something should be done to redevelop Lansdowne Park, a unique city asset which had been allowed to deteriorate for decades.
In early 2008 a competition was approved by Council and public consultations were held. The competition was cancelled following the announcement of a conditional CFL franchise for an Ottawa franchisee.
By autumn of 2008 a consortium comprising the franchisee and three property developers publicized a plan to transform all of Lansdowne Park. This contrasted with their original announcement that they were simply intending to be tenants.
In spring 2009 the city agreed to negotiate with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group or OSEG, which presented itself as a group promoting sports in Ottawa, about possible redevelopment at Lansdowne.
In September 2009 the outcome of the negotiations was revealed. It was proposed that the city enter into a partnership with OSEG to implement a proposal called the Lansdowne Partnership Plan.
In November 2009 Council reviewed the proposed plan and required that further studies be conducted. Upon receipt of those studies, some of which were received in mid June, Council will decide whether to proceed with the partnership arrangement.
Council is to consider the question June 28.
• Lansdowne is the last substantial piece of public parkland (approximately 40 acres) in downtown Ottawa. It is immediately adjacent to the Rideau Canal, a World Heritage site and contains two important heritage structures: the Aberdeen Pavilion, the most significant Victorian-era auction hall in Canada; the Horticultural Building, designed by Canada’s sole student of Frank Lloyd Wright.
• The site also contains an open air sports stadium in very poor condition, which the city began to dismantle two years ago because of structural concerns.
• The location of any sports stadium (whether new or renovated) is a point of contention: a consultant study commissioned by the city reported that several other (suburban) locations were more suitable than Lansdowne. The absence of appropriate mass transit access to Lansdowne is a major factor.
• Following criticism of the lack of a competitive process for the overall development, Council authorized a design competition for a small portion of the site, set up a design review panel, and selected a preferred design approach. The timelines and available budget for creating this urban park remain unclear.
• The commercial development proposal calls for public investment of approximately $130 million in the stadium, arena and parking facilities. In return, private developers will have the opportunity to build approximately 340,000 sq feet of retail, residential and office buildings on public land leased from the city for $1 per year.
• The partnership proposal calls for the property taxes realized by the city from this development to be designated to pay off the city’s investment in the project. Proponents of this deal present this as a claim that this massive undertaking has no cost to Ottawa’s taxpayers. In actual fact, however; the site would still benefit from public services paid for by taxpayers (i.e. roads, police, fire, transit etc) but the proposed taxation structure would remove the tax revenue from general revenues. Essentially, this amounts to public subsidization of private profit. Dr. Ian Lee, Director of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, has spoken at length about the deceptive nature of the city’s financial business case for the development.
• Eight of the City’s Advisory Committees have passed resolutions opposing the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. These are: the Built Heritage Advisory Committee; the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee; Forests and Greenspace; Environment; Arts, Heritage and Culture; Roads and Cycling; Pedestrian and Transit; Health and Social Services. Councillor Diane Holmes has said that, to her knowledge this level of opposition from Advisory Committees is unprecedented in the City's history.
• Opposition to the development proposal is found throughout Ottawa – in all wards. Indeed, numerous community associations representing a broad spectrum of Ottawa citizens and neighbourhoods, are opposing the plan on two grounds: the need to make best use of this historically significant site; and the lack of responsible due process by the City. Contact details as follows.
Councillor Diane Holmes email@example.com
Councillor Diane Deans firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Clive Doucet email@example.com
Councillor Alex Cullen firstname.lastname@example.org
Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi email@example.com
Dr. Ian Lee firstname.lastname@example.org 613-222-7722
June Creelman email@example.com
Michael Tiger firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Kariouk email@example.com
613 562 2211 Office
613 562 2231 Fax
613 868 2985 Cell