The revitalized Lansdowne Park is full of promise on game days, but often empty otherwise. Matthew Pearson looks at what works and what doesn’t.
One Ottawa Redblacks fan poses for a photo among Hamilton Tiger Cats supporters before the CFL Eastern Conference final game on Nov. 22, 2015. DAVID KAWAI / OTTAWA CITIZEN
Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen
Game days are the best time to see Lansdowne Park as its most enthusiastic cheerleaders want it to be seen — a buzzing hive of activity where thousands of Ottawa RedBlacks fans converge, packing the bars and restaurants to scarf down burgers and beer before taking their seats in TD Place stadium.
And there was perhaps no better game in the team’s sophomore season than the Nov. 22 CFL eastern conference final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which the RedBlacks clinched in the dying minutes thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime catch by receiver Greg Ellingson.
There were 25,091 people in the stands on that sunny, crisp autumn afternoon, and dozens more watching for free from a nearby knoll or inside toasty new condos that overlook the stadium.
While some streamed onto the field for an impromptu post-game party, others high-tailed it to the restaurants on Marché Way, which quickly filled up. The wait for a table at Jack Astor’s was soon an hour long.
Lansdowne was — as its slogan says — live.
Only skeptics, with their heels firmly dug in, would say the finished product is worse than what was there before — an underused island of asphalt in the heart of the city.
It’s true some of the pieces haven’t lived up to their early promise. Lansdowne is less ambitious or unique than many hoped; less civic crown jewel and more cubic zirconia.
There are other black eyes and bruises as well — a mess of lawsuits from subcontractors, including one from the now-bankrupt company that built the stadium’s iconic wooden veil; a retail mix that, in the words of the area’s city councillor, is “predictably disappointing,” and a shaky start for the venerable Ottawa Farmer’s Market, which has seen its foot traffic decline dramatically since returning to Lansdowne from Brewer Park in Old Ottawa South.
With some modest improvements, however, the park could yet become a place people embrace, every day of the year.