The new Lansdowne: Not a crown jewel, but better than a lump of asphalt

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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.

Bank Street lane reductions begin Monday

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Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen 

Bank Street will be reduced to one lane in each direction near Lansdowne Park, between Holmwood Avenue and Exhibition Way for Hydro Ottawa construction.

The lane closure will be in effect from Monday until Jan. 22, the city said in a statement.

Buses will operate as usual on Bank but there could be delays for those using the Bank Street entrance to Lansdowne.

To avoid the construction, the city suggests the public use the Queen Elizabeth Driveway entrance.

The sidewalks will not be affected by the construction.

Lifting Lansdowne's veil: Lawsuits tell story of escalating costs, unpaid bills, business failure

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The firm that built the signature wooden ‘veil’ on TD Place stadium went bankrupt. Other contractors are suing for millions. James Bagnall reveals the legal scars left by Lansdowne Park’s facelift.

James Bagnall, Ottawa Citizen

One of Eric Sommer’s greatest joys is creating wood structures that transform ordinary buildings, infusing them with new shapes and warmth.

It was his company — Spring Valley Classic Custom — that installed the signature wooden veil that envelops the south side of TD Place, the rebuilt stadium at the heart of a reborn Lansdowne Park.

Sommer translated the inspiration of architect Robert Claiborne into a lattice of wood and steel so precise that nowhere is there a spot for water to collect and begin the process of decay. The structure, which incorporates more than 12 kilometres of Alaskan yellow cedar, should age gracefully.

“It’s a work of art,” Sommer said wistfully from his company headquarters in Jerseyville, a small town just west of Hamilton.

The $7-million job should have been the pinnacle of Sommer’s 27-year career.

Instead, it ruined him.

Spring Valley filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 28. Seventy workers lost their jobs.

“I won’t bring my family to Ottawa to see what we built,” Sommer said afterwards. “I couldn’t bear it.”

Eric Sommer at the office of his now-bankrupt company in Jerseyville, Ont. GLENN LOWSON / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Sommer lost everything after putting his “heart and soul” into building the one structure at Lansdowne that would become a landmark in the city. But while bankruptcies are not uncommon in the complex world of large-scale construction, Spring Valley was far from the only firm on the Lansdowne site that saw large invoices unpaid.

Finance committee OKs resolution to Lansdowne dispute

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Aerial photo of TD Place Stadium and shops at Lansdowne Park with the Glebe at top and left. WAYNE CUDDINGTON / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

The finance committee has endorsed a deal to end the city's $23.6-million dispute with its Lansdowne Park business partners, despite a legal opinion that says the city would likely win if the matter went to arbitration.

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) and the city differ over who's responsible for work related to repairing rusty steel structures in the arena's roof, which were discovered after a contract had been signed, and other costs for bringing the retail area up to the same design standard as elsewhere in the park.

OSEG believes the roof repair is beyond the scope of the agreement it signed with the city, so the city should pay; the city believes the bill belongs to OSEG.

A legal opinion from Gowling Lafleur Henderson, shared in confidence with councillors, says that on every front the Gowlings lawyers think the city would probably win. On the big-ticket steel, OSEG knew that rain leaked into the Civic Centre hockey arena from above — not least because it dripped into Ottawa 67's owner and OSEG partner Jeff Hunt's private box. OSEG had a report in hand suggesting that the steel in the arena roof, which supported the concourse for the football stadium built on top of it, had probably been exposed to a lot of water.

The developers might not have known precisely what they were getting into, the legal opinion says, but they knew they were taking a risk when they signed a deal to take on renovating the stadium and arena at a fixed price.

City gives in on Lansdowne dispute despite secret legal opinion saying it would likely win

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David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

The city's set to settle a $24-million dispute with the private developers who renovated Lansdowne Park largely because the way their deal is structured, the city would end up holding the bag no matter what it does.

This is in spite of an opinion from the city's lawyers that says that if the city and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group fought it out, the city would probably win.

The $24-million figure is mostly the cost to replace rusty structural steel the builders discovered once they started ripping into the north-side stands of what's now TD Place, though it includes a few smaller surprises and squabbles that aren't surprising in a project as big as Lansdowne — who's on the hook for using higher-end materials in OSEG's new retail area because the city wanted them to match the stuff it used in the park it built next door, that kind of thing.

The Lansdowne partnership's finances are tight. Even in the context of a project worth hundreds of millions, $24 million is real money.

The legal opinion, from outside firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson, is secret. It says that on every front, Gowlings' lawyers think the city would probably win. On the big-ticket steel, OSEG knew that rain leaked into the Civic Centre hockey arena from above — not least because it dripped into Ottawa 67's owner and OSEG partner Jeff Hunt's private box. It had a report in hand suggesting that the steel in the arena roof, which supported the concourse for the football stadium built on top of it, had probably been exposed to a lot of water.

Lansdowne report shows city will make no money

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Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

Extra costs at Lansdowne Park have wiped out the possibility that the city will turn a profit on the project.

The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group — the city’s partner in the venture, which brought about the return of CFL football to the city and dramatically transformed the Bank Street site — also stands to make less money than initially expected, and suffered an operating loss of $10.9 million in Lansdowne’s start-up year.

The details, released late Tuesday in advance of next week’s finance and economic development committee meeting, are contained in the first-ever annual report on the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. The report provides council with an update on the first year of operations at the park, which was unwrapped in stages following the Ottawa Redblacks opening game on July 18, 2014.

Financial statements for 2014 were provided to the city at a meeting in June, as well as an updated picture of the profit-earning potential of Lansdowne Park.

OSEG operations are expected to generate $109.7 million more in net revenues over 30 years than projected in 2012 thanks to longer term retail leases (at higher rates), higher CFL revenues with broadcast agreements, and higher than expected revenues from naming rights and ticket fees.

However, the business organization has also had to shell out $53.6 million more in unexpected capital expenditures in 2014 and 2015. OSEG’s unanticipated costs included repairing rust in the arena roof, as well as additional work on the retail area; technology costs of $10 million – which are offset by increased revenue – and $20 million more in retail construction costs.

The impact of the revised figures is reduced profit for OSEG over the 30 years of the agreement. OSEG was expected to spend $56.3 million and get paid $69.7 million, for a net return of $13.4 million, in 2012 dollars. But now OSEG is expected to invest $110.5 million and earn $115.4 million, for a net profit of $4.9 million — a reduction of $8.5 million, in 2015 dollars.

The city’s anticipated profits of $22.6 million, meanwhile, will be wiped out in large measure because of the unanticipated costs of repairing the arena’s roof. Depending on how the city decides to settle its dispute with OSEG, it could recoup $6.8 million of the expected profits, according to the report.

City tells council to settle steel dispute at Lansdowne

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By Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

The city will guarantee a $23.6-million loan for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group to pay for the corroded steel discovered in TD Place arena, if council agrees to a settlement.

The recommended deal, outlined in a report released Tuesday, would put an end to a beef between the city and OSEG over the damaged steel in the old Civic Centre. The remediation cost was previously pegged at $17 million, but now it's $22.6 million.

Councillors are also learning OSEG wants the city to pay $1 million related to temporary asphalt, concrete pavers and bollards in the public parts of the mixed-use area at Lansdowne Park to make everything match the materials in the urban park.

City staff are recommending the settlement to avoid going through time-consuming commercial arbitration — costing up to $2.5 million in taxpayer money for legal costs if the city loses — with one of its most important business partners.

The city says guaranteeing OSEG's loan would help the sports company land a 3.5% interest rate.

A loan guarantee always comes with the risk the guarantor could be on the hook for the debt if the borrower defaults.

Lansdowne Park 'will do better' next year, OSEG CEO says

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1st financial report on Lansdowne not due until December

CBC News

Check out how Lansdowne Park changed from 2007 to 2015.

It's been more than a year since the first shops and businesses started opening at the redeveloped Lansdowne Park — and now 95 per cent of those retail spaces are filled, according to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.

But David Chernushenko, the councillor for the area, told CBC News it's still too early to tell whether the $200-million spent to redevelop Lansdowne Park was a success as the first financial report is not due until December.

The City of Ottawa is expected to get the money it invested back over the next 40 years but it could be more than a decade before it starts to come in, Chernushenko said.

"It was a very optimistic [goal] — that everything had to go right. All the retail space had to be rented and those retailers had to make a good profit," he said. "Teams had to do well, you know, seats filled."

Construction almost done

Milestones was one of the first businesses to open at Lansdowne Park last fall. Tom Christie, the restaurant's general manager, said it's been a rocky start to draw customers in.

"It hasn't been everything that we expected it to be, for sure, but at the same time, Ottawa is taking a long time to come around to the area," he said. "We were expecting a lot more foot traffic. Like more of a mall feel."

OSEG said that 1.5 million people have visited Lansdowne so far this year and that traffic is expected to increase as construction wraps up and residents move into the site's 20-storey condo building.

OSEG CEO Bernie Ashe said he hopes the site's office tower will be fully leased by the end of next year.

"I think next year everyone will do better when the office tower is full and the condo towers are full and all the event load continues to grow," he said.

He added that playoff games involving both the Ottawa Redblacks and Ottawa Fury are expected to draw large crowds this fall.

‘No such thing as perfect’

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Not everyone smiling in wake of hugely successful CityFolk

Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun

It appears CityFolk still has some hurdles to clear if organizers want to return to Lansdowne Park.

While executive director Mark Monahan called it “the perfect spot” for his five-day festival — which attracted an estimated 70,000 fans to the heart of the Glebe — Capital Coun. David Chernushenko says “the jury is still out.”

Chernushenko butted heads with organizers last year when Glebe residents lodged dozens of daily noise complaints after sound from the main stages wafted into the neighbourhood from the old site at Hog’s Back Park.

Before moving to Lansdowne this year, Chernushenko said organizers “originally presented me with a plan that had all outdoor events end at 9 p.m. This morphed into ‘by about 10 p.m.’ I decided to let that go, as long as the noise bylaw was being respected.”

CityFolk organizers turned down the volume and pulled the plug at 10 p.m. sharp, and according to Bylaw and Protection Services, the city fielded only 15 noise complaints — coming from nine Glebe residents — over the five days.

“Some complaints came in well after 10 p.m. (even 11 p.m.), but it is likely this was sound and bass coming from indoor venues,” said Chernushenko.