Maddie Fulford, 10, hands out welcoming flyers as the official opening of Lansdowne Park took place Friday and is the culmination of more than a year of intensive construction to complete the new 18-acre urban park. Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen
What sort of organization gets the public all excited about a huge project like Lansdowne’s urban park then quietly closes parts of it down with no explanation?
That would be your city government at work. Or not, as the case may be.
After this weekend’s splashy public opening of the $42-million urban park — the price includes the relocation and renovation of the Horticulture Building — visitors to the play area and skatepark found these already-popular elements mysteriously cordoned off. No signage, no notice, no public service announcement until after the Citizen’s David Reevely made inquiries to the city.
It turns out that crews working furiously on Lansdowne’s urban park ran out of time to pour the rubberized surface for the play area before the grand opening. Instead of keeping the playground closed, city officials decided to cover the ground with wood chips temporarily for the weekend. It was the right decision — the children’s play area and skatepark were the huge hits.
Anyone who’s ever lived through a home improvement project can have some sympathy for others suffering renovation delays. So it’s not the fact that the park wasn’t completely finished that’s inexcusable, it’s the way the city handled the news. Did they think that no one would notice the play area and skatepark were off limits? Not even local Coun. David Chernushenko knew about the closures until reading about it on Twitter.
The communications were “not handled in as proficient a manner as we would have hoped,” admitted the city’s parks and recreation manager, Dan Chenier.
Two days after Lansdowne’s grand opening, its playground and skate park have been closed for more work.
Indeed. Chenier went on to explain that there was some confusion as to how quickly the crews would move to install the permanent rubberized surface, which will need at least a few dry days to pour and cure. Chenier said he hopes the play area and skatepark — which has to be closed during the work because of its proximity to the playground — will be open again this weekend, but the timing is weather dependent.
But the incident raises another question: How was the opening date for the park determined? Was the date based on practicality? Or politics?
The Lansdowne redevelopment partners — that would be the city and Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group — were hoping for the urban park to open in July in tandem with the first Redblacks home game. But the construction team, led by the city’s Marco Manconi, said that wouldn’t work. So they looked at later dates, and by mid-March had settled on Aug. 16, after our new CFL team’s third home game.
Why the rush? By March, when the final launch date was chosen, we all knew the sort of winter we were having. As for the precipitation, it hasn’t been a drastically worse summer for rain than other summers, so it’s hard to say that it was surprising weather that caused delays. It appears that the launch date was simply too optimistic — crews were laying sod hours before the official ceremony!
Again, why Aug. 16?
According to a spokesman from Mayor Jim Watson’s office, all involved “wanted a date that would be likely to have good summer weather, allow for the public to visit the majority of the completed park as soon as possible, and one that would be in close proximity to Redblacks and Fury games so that some elements of the opening (like the stage) could be shared between the events.”
Redblacks mascot Big Joe tried out the play structure, even posing for some pictures up there, at the community picnic and fair, hosted by the City at Lansdowne Park on August 16, 2014.David Kawai / Ottawa Citizen
But there’s another key reason that the official opening of Lansdowne’s urban park had to be in August: the municipal election on Oct. 27.
During the 60 days before voting day, anyone on council seeking re-election is subject to a so-called “blackout period,” during which they are not allowed to use any city resources or their own office budgets for community events, among other restrictions. This is, rightfully, to prevent an incumbent from having an unfair advantage over competitors by, say, officially opening a public park during the campaign.
For example, the mayor’s photo and welcome message could not have appeared on the thousands of maps of the Lansdowne grounds handed out at the opening if it had been held during the blackout period.
So we could have waited until September — when the weather is so often beautiful in the capital — but that would have drastically reduced the involvement of politicians at the opening. And who wants to go to a park opening without politicians?