Lansdowne partnership riddled with broken contract conditions, auditor general finds

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David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

Our city government signs something like $1 billion in contracts a year for everything from bus tires to emergency shelter beds, but almost everywhere auditor general Ken Hughes looks, he finds that managers are slack about enforcing them.

“Deficiencies in contract management” are the theme in Hughes’ work so far, he told city council’s audit committee in presenting his latest pack of audits Thursday.

Take the partnership with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group to rebuild and manage Lansdowne Park, which Hughes looked at closely this year.

Councillors wanted two things out of the OSEG deal. First, a big infusion of private money to redevelop the site. And second, somebody else to take on most of the risks of running it. As Hughes’ audit report puts it, this is “the most significant public-private partnership ever undertaken by the city,” at least until the new light-rail system opens.

Making it work “requires careful attention to the terms and conditions of the agreements affecting operations and maintenance, as well as ensuring that the city’s assets are maintained, maximizing safety, reliability and availability.”

Here’s why Lansdowne Park is failing Ottawa

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Jake Dicks and Jorell Izaguirre play basketball after a rainy day at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa Friday May 26, 2017.

Jonathan McLeod, Ottawa Sun

Well, it happened again. Lansdowne Park has posted another annual loss.

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group reported a $14.4-million net loss for the site in 2016.

Granted, things are looking up, and the Grey Cup win hurt the finances a bit, but no excuses or rationalizations can obscure the fact that Lansdowne is not performing as well as we’d hoped.

Yes, officials keep reminding us that it’s better than what was there before, but if that’s the best we can say...

If Lansdowne is to ever be the “urban village” we were promised, we need to identify the problems that exist, so we can find real solutions.

And the main problem is pretty obvious. Lansdowne — despite all intentions — is not a place for people. It doesn’t draw people in and through the site. It doesn’t invite people to linger. It isn’t home to enough different uses to maintain the level of activity — every day, all day — that is necessary for a thriving city district.

Such activity is known as urban diversity. A thriving urban area has enough different uses (residential, commercial, cultural, entertainment) happening all at once to ensure a rich variety of people using the same space consistently — that is, using the same streets and the same blocks at the same time.

By balancing the types of users at Lansdowne Park, there would be a more consistent flow of customers for businesses, and people for the public amenities.

Of course, to get more people moving through Lansdowne, the layout needs to be inviting to pedestrians, guiding them through the site, and encouraging them to take part in different activities.

But Lansdowne, as it is right now, is not built for people. The pedestrian-friendly areas are turned over to driving. The sidewalks are pinched by patios and parking. The bulk of the public spaces have no shade and nowhere comfortable to sit and chat.

This is due, in part to Lansdowne lacking residents. You may stand on Bank Street, look at the two towers and think of all the people who live at Lansdowne, but they don’t live in Lansdowne.

They live on Bank Street. They live on Holmwood. They never have to enter the park; they never have to walk its streets; and, thus, that key component for creating a diverse, people-friendly space — residents — is missing.

With a lack of residents and a half-empty office building, Lansdowne is relegated to having only one primary use, leisure. We talk about a live-work-play balance, but Lansdowne is all play: festivals, bars, restaurants, sporting events.

Areas with only one primary use grow stagnant, failing to live up to their potential, as noted by author, activist and professor Jane Jacobs.

This is predominantly by design. The city and OSEG are focused on bringing events to Lansdowne. They trumpet the fact that we had 177 special events at the park.

Yes, Lansdowne draws millions of visits, but too many of them are for a single purpose ...often a paid, private event that erects barriers to keep their guests out of the rest of the park.

Lansdowne needs more people conducting routine, mundane daily life stuff. It can thrive with fewer visitors if it gets better balance.

Forget about an urban village. Right now, Lansdowne is an urban amusement park, a wax museum where the elements of a vibrant city can be seen but can’t come to life.

If we want that urban life, we need to prioritize people. We need fewer cars. We need more seating, with tables and chairs. We need umbrellas and canopies to address the dearth of shade.

We need events like the farmers’ market; events that are integrated into the park, encouraging people to mingle, encouraging city life to naturally appear.

Or we can keep prioritizing cars, parking and paid events. And we can keep wondering why the best we can ever say is that it’s better than what was there before.

Still struggling to make Lansdowne Park green

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Trees awaiting planting at Lansdowne Park in 2014. BRUCE DEACHMAN / POSTMEDIA

David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

Three years after Lansdowne Park reopened, the trees on its commercial streets are still struggling, scraggly things, fighting for life in tough conditions.

“Greening” Lansdowne was a major selling point for the partnership between the city government and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), turning a dreary old fairground-cum-parking-lot into a city oasis. And, in fairness, the new trees in the Lansdowne’s eastern parky section are doing just fine. The ones in Aberdeen Square, where the farmers’ market sets up between the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Cineplex movie theatre, are also OK.

The ones on Bank Street and on Marché Way and Exhibition Way, the two streets running into Lansdowne off Bank Street, less so. They were planted in spring 2014, the following winter was savagely cold and a bunch of them died, and the survivors are mostly failing to thrive.

“We’re challenged,” says Roger Greenberg, OSEG’s chairman and the longtime head of the Minto property empire. “We’re challenged with the design that we were given, we’re also challenged by Canadian winters and we’re also challenged by the fact that to keep the site safe we have to put salt down. Salt and trees don’t go well together. So we’re trying to learn from those experiences and get better at it, but we still have a way to go.”

Greenberg used the trees explicitly as a metaphor for the state of Lansdowne as a whole when he gave an annual presentation to city council’s finance committee on Tuesday. The site’s financial performance isn’t what OSEG or the city would like yet but it’s getting there. Ditto its arboreal performance.

The pretty pictures that come with any new development proposal are always supremely optimistic about the lush canopy that’ll enfold the finished product. Shady, leafy and cool it’ll be. One of my favourites, for a building to go up just a little north of Lansdowne on Bank Street, shows a row of big, healthy trees sprouting straight out of the sidewalk, watered by magic.

In real life, it’s hard out there for a street tree. This isn’t Vancouver, where you can stick a broken twig in the ground and expect it to leaf out next spring. Cold winters hurt saplings, whose roots are unprotected by layers of insulating snow. Hot summers stress them out. Paving restricts how much water gets to their roots and how far those roots can spread. They get splashed with poisonous salt and gouged by passing plows. Ash trees historically did pretty well here, then along came ravenous bugs that chewed them to pieces.

At Lansdowne, trees are the main feature meant to soften the shopping streets, which are otherwise nothing but concrete, stone, brick, glass and metal, as barren as when the place was a parking lot.

“It’s not due to ill will on anybody’s part,” says Coun. David Chernushenko, whose ward includes Lansdowne and who was a green-business consultant before entering politics. “Everyone wants to see the trees thriving.”

Lansdowne carried out Escapade — but no guarantee it returns

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Wayne Scanlan, Ottawa Citizen

While Lansdowne Park survived the year’s Escapade Music Festival, the jury is out on a return engagement.

Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko has reservations about the Glebe neighbourhood as a suitable place for electronic music concerts, feeling that Glebe residents tolerate enough commotion from sports events and “amplified activities of all kinds,” Chernushenko said Monday, via email, a day after the weekend festival at Lansdowne.

“There is a breaking point, and it would be irresponsible and unfair at a human level for the city to allow it to be crossed,” Chernushenko said, adding that “several dozen people” from Old Ottawa South and East “reported to me that their houses were shaking, notably on Sunday night, after the main stage was closed down and the closing acts were moved to the Aberdeen Pavilion.”

The councillor, who was active all weekend responding to constituents’ noise concerns, wants to consult emergency responders, on-site staff and local residents before thinking about future EDM events on Bank Street. In past years, Escapade has been held at Rideau Carleton Raceway, soon to be home to a major casino and entertainment venue.

“I never did feel that Lansdowne – surrounded by residential communities with no significant buffer – is the right place for electronic dance music or any other music genre that relies heavily on deep base,” Chernushenko said.

On the whole, Chernushenko felt that concert staff responded well to expressed noise concerns, using their directional speaker systems and base drawback technology to control outward vibrations.

Regarding medical and police issues, the councillor said he was troubled that so many resources have to be expended to keep people safe at a festival.

Escapade defies doubters with few medical emergencies, noise complaints

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Outdoor stage at Lansdowne Park shut down Sunday because of storms

CBC News

The Escapade music festival at Lansdowne Park went off relatively smoothly, despite concerns about drug use and noise in the buildup to the event.

However, severe thunder caused a bit of a scramble on Sunday when the main outdoor stage was shut down, although none of the main acts had to cancel.

Paramedics said 18 partygoers were treated during the two-night festival, and 10 of those cases were related to drugs and alcohol.

Two people overdosed on ecstasy and the sedative GHB, while another slipped and broke their leg, according to paramedics.

Michael Latimer of the Ottawa Paramedic Service told CBC News Sunday that those numbers suggest that there were fewer issues than they had anticipated.

None of the patients treated was in life-threatening condition, and responders did not have to use naloxone, a medication used to treat opiate overdose.

Concerns had been mounting because of an increase in overdoses in the city, especially with prom and festival season now underway.

For the first time in the festival's history, Ottawa police were on hand with what they call a "drug amnesty" box, where attendees could discard their drugs, no questions asked.

"It was a success, they did have some stuff that was dropped off anonymously before people entered the festival grounds," said Ali Shafaee, the festival's director of partnerships.

Organizers of the festival estimated that they spent about $200,000 on safety and security measures for the event.

Noise an issue for some

Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko said he personally received 10 to 12 noise complaints from residents of Old Ottawa South, but the noise stayed within what's allowed under city bylaws.

"I heard from a number of immediate neighbours who weren't happy, we've certainly had louder [events] but several found it louder than they'd play their home sound systems with the windows closed, was how they described it," he said.

City considers relaxing noise restrictions for Lansdowne Park events

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

Lansdowne Park could rock until 1 a.m. on weekends if the city approves recommended changes to the noise bylaw for events.

The city has been studying several elements of its noise bylaw since 2015 and it’s getting closer to making suggestions to council.

One of the proposals involves noise created during special events, and specifically the activities at Lansdowne Park and the Canadian Tire Centre. An online public consultation is ongoing.

Both properties do a good job of managing noise issues, the city says. When noise happens, it’s usually after an event when people are going somewhere else.

To make sure there are bylaw resources to crack down on noise in residential neighbourhoods, the city wants to push the noise exemption to 1 a.m. for events at Lansdowne Park and the Canadian Tire Centre on Friday and Saturday, and also on Monday if it’s a statutory holiday. On other days, the noise cutoff would stay at 11 p.m.

The proposal “recognizes the cultural and economic benefits of special events programming,” the city says.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, who represents the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, wasn’t available for comment Tuesday.

DND issues jet warning to avoid repeat of Redblacks fly-by freak-out

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 Football fans, nearby residents complained last year's fly-by took them by surprise

A CF-18 Hornet like this one will fly over TD Place on Aug. 25, 2016, to mark the annual Ottawa Redblacks appreciation game for the Canadian Armed Forces. (Staff Sgt. Perry Aston/HO-U.S. Air Force/Canadian Press)

CBC News

If you're going to this Thursday's Ottawa Redblacks game — or simply live near TD Place — don't let that evening's scheduled fighter jet fly-by freak you out..

At around 7:30 p.m., a CF-18 Hornet will roar over the stadium to mark the Canadian Armed Forces appreciation game, the Department of National Defence said in a statement Tuesday.

Both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Ottawa Redblacks' ownership group issued apologies following last year's fly-by, after some rattled residents in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South — along with some startled football fans — complained they weren't properly notified and didn't know what was happening.

This year, the fighter jet will fly over TD Place "at an altitude no lower than 500 feet above the highest point of its route," the department said.

Once it's passed by, the jet will return to higher altitudes and return to base at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Que.

The Redblacks will be taking on the B.C. Lions, who are in second place in the CFL's West Division, on Thursday night.

Residents still fighting Lansdowne's massive TD billboard

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Tim Leah has been fighting to get the TD Bank logo removed from the RedBlacks stadium, saying it's a "blight" on the heritage landscape of the canal. EMMA JACKSON/METRO

The bright green TD Bank logo on the back of Lansdowne stadium conforms to all the city's rules, but residents say it's a "blight" on the heritage landscape.

By Emma Jackson, Metro

Appalling. Atrocious. Offensive.

Those are just some of the adjectives residents have attached to the massive green TD Bank logo on the backside of the RedBlacks stadium.

It’s a blight, they say, on the heritage landscape of the canal: a “knife in the eye” for visitors and locals trying to enjoy the paths and waterway that run through Old Ottawa South, according to John Dance, who has been trying to remove the sign since it was installed in 2014.

“You won’t go along the whole 200 kilometre length of the canal and see anything so atrocious as that,” said Dance.

TD owns the naming rights to the stadium at Lansdowne Park where the Ottawa RedBlacks, Ottawa 67s, and Ottawa Fury play.

After two years, Dance is still fighting for change.

“If we want to retain that UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the Rideau Canal, it has to come down, or be severely modified,” Dance said.

He has asked Capital Coun. David Chernushenko to raise the issue with his council colleagues.

According to Dance, the 36 square-metre billboard has no business there.

It’s only 50 metres from the Queen Elizabeth Parkway, when the city’s own sign bylaws dictate billboards should be 500 metres back.

But, Lansdowne has its own sign rules – council approved a detailed plan in 2012 - and the billboard complies with every one of them, said the city's urban design manager John Smit.

Doesn’t matter, said Dance.

“It’s still not appropriate for its proximity to a heritage site,” he said. “When you’re walking along that beautiful canal, what dominates the viewscape is that TD sign.”

He’s not the only hater.

Old Ottawa South resident Tim Leah has sent his share of letters to TD Bank, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), and city councillors.

“It just grates on me every time I go by, and I’m sure it grates on a lot of people,” he said.

Both Dance and Leah feel the community wasn’t properly consulted.

Lansdowne’s wayfinding plan was included as part of site plan consultations in 2010, Smit said, and residents could address the issue at planning committee in June 2012.

But since the billboard itself conformed to the plan, it was “not subject to public consultation,” Smit said.

OSEG’s Graeme Ivory said the sign is compliant, but “we are always open to discussing any matter” with the community.

Lansdowne Park has limits as city works on facility occupancy rate

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The city isn't convinced spending about $1 million to install air conditioning in the revamped Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park would be a good investment. JANA CHYTILOVA / OTTAWA CITIZEN


Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

A non-competition agreement with the EY Centre prevents the city from pursuing trade shows for Lansdowne Park, whose city-run buildings had just over half of the rental times booked in 2015.

It’s one of the barriers to maximizing rental space in the Horticulture Building and the Aberdeen Pavilion.

The deal to keep trade shows away from Lansdowne was struck when the city partnered with Shenkman Corp. to build the exposition hall near the Ottawa International Airport. The city contributed $8.5 million to the facility, which the city believed was necessary to bring trade shows to Ottawa when Lansdowne was redeveloped.

EY Centre president Kevin McCrann said the facility hasn’t had to enforce the non-competition agreement with the city over trade shows.

“The majority of the time there is no issue,” McCrann said, adding that the new Lansdowne isn’t exactly conducive to trade shows.

A spokesman for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group said TD Place isn’t in the trade show business, anyway. (The city runs the Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building. OSEG runs TD Place.) The trade show space in the “salons” of the old Civic Centre became commercial space in the TD Place redevelopment.