Lansdowne delays could impact FIFA bid

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Laura Mueller / OTTAWA THIS WEEK

GLEBE - The community is still trying to absorb the impact of an almost-yearlong delay in the Lansdowne redevelopment project.

Perhaps the most significant fallout could be the effect on the city's bid to host two FIFA women's world-cup soccer games in 2015. Ottawa is one of seven cities in the running to host two women's world cup soccer tournaments in July of 2014 and June of 2015.

Under the revised timelines released in a city report on Aug. 12, the stadium wouldn't be ready to use until early 2014.

A representative from the Canadian Soccer Association did not respond to requests to comment on the potential impact of the delay on its FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) bid, but Coun. Steve Desroches said FIFA could "find some comfort" in city council's desire to move forward on the project.

"I think it's critical that we keep to the timelines so that we can provide those assurances to FIFA," Desroches said.

He added that he isn't aware of any concerns that have been expressed by the organizers of the U-20 Women's World Cup (2014) and FIFA Women's World Cup (2015).

Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko refrained from saying "I told you so," but as the lone dissenter on the motion to seek the FIFA tournaments, he said he wouldn't be surprised if the revised timelines had some impact on the stadium's readiness to host the events.

But he added that as a soccer fan, he hopes FIFA would look at other, perhaps more important, factors that go into hosting a successful sporting event, such as the atmosphere of the capital, associated entertainment events and transportation options.

"(Ottawa) would appeal because it's the capital," Chernushenko said. "You can host an event in an unfinished stadium."

Temporary stands could be installed in the interim if the stadium is not fully completed, Chernushenko said.

Chernushenko was also quick to dismiss claims that the Friends of Lansdowne legal challenge was the main or only reason for the delay.

"I continue to resent that implication," he said, adding that there have been many delays on OSEG and the designers' side as well.

As for whether the reconstruction of Bank Street in the Glebe could have waited until next year, Chenushenko said he would have approached the issue differently if he had known Lansdowne would be delayed.

"In life, you have to make decisions based on the information you have at the time," he said, noting that waiting until 2012 to reconstruct the street still would not have allowed the city to find funds to bury the hydro wires.

Construction schedule

The city and its partner, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), had expected shovels to be in the ground by around this point in the summer, but the revised schedule says construction won't begin until the late spring.

Major construction is set to begin in the winter of 2013, with work on the mixed-use commercial and residential blocks. All of that should wrap up by 2014.

When the construction of the underground parking garage is done by the spring of 2014, work on the urban park and landscaping can begin, to be finished by the summer of 2015.

December of 2013 is also when the north and south stands at Frank Clair Stadium will be "substantially complete." That means the stadium will be complete enough for soccer and football teams to begin using it in the spring of 2014. Along with parking and the arena, it is still expected to cost id="mce_marker"29.3 million to build.

But to make that happen, staff are recommending that the city does things a bit differently.

Originally, the plans for the stadium were to be passed along to OSEG for completion. But the process could be sped up if the city does a lot of the work itself, according to the report.

Completing the design of the stadium, arena and parking garage are at the top of that list.

Demolishing the south-side stands and removing contaminated soil should also be done before the Lansdowne partnership is finalized.

It also means the city, and OSEG, will be spending a lot more money up front. The city will shoulder much of the burden, with Phase 2 costs jumping from $6.5 million to $21 million. OSEG was also set to spend $6.5 million during that time, but will now chip in id="mce_marker"0.9 million.

"Ultimately, this results in expenditures occurring earlier, but not an overall increase in the associated budget," the report states.

The shift will also ensure that the city retains ownership of most of the value of the design for those major components, such as the stadium, in the event that the agreements with OSEG fall apart, the report notes.

The city's cost-sharing agreement with OSEG has expired because too much time has passed, so the city will need to renegotiate a new one. Costs for the stadium, parking garage, urban park, retail, residential and office components will be shared, to varying degrees.

The report also contains some good news about finances. The city lowballed how much retailers might be willing to pay to rent space at Lansdowne and highballed the expected interest rate the city would have to carry, and so far it looks like the city could come out in the black on both fronts.

City councillors will be expecting future updates on other issues, including the governance model, a formal agreement between the city and the Ottawa Farmer's Market, programming (including costs) for the urban park, lighting and wayfinding signs.