Lansdowne rethink could include new north stands, canal access
OSEG to deliver strategic review to city by June after disappointing 2017 financials
Refurbishing the north-side stands at TD Place and improving access to the Rideau Canal could be part of a major rethink of Lansdowne Park following news of its disappointing financial results five years after its redevelopment, councillors heard Tuesday.
The Grey Cup, an NHL outdoor classic game and Canada 150 events weren't enough to make Lansdowne profitable in 2017.
Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) — which owns the Ottawa Redblacks, the Ottawa 67's and Ottawa Fury FC, and runs the arena, stadium and commercial space — had originally expected to be in the black by 2017.
Instead, it posted a net loss of nearly $8 million.
The problem? Running the place cost more than OSEG expected — so much so that OSEG's 30-year financial partnership with the city, known as the "waterfall," will generate $60 million less than expected over its 30-year life.
That means that the city — which controls the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building, as well as the urban park on the east side of the site — would not receive its expected $62 million of accrued interest, according to OSEG's 2017 annual report, presented to the finance and economic development committee Tuesday morning.
OSEG partners would also likely not recoup $102 million of their capital investments, according to the report.
Now, OSEG is undertaking a "strategic review" to figure out how to make more money from the site.
North-side stands older, less popular
A major drag on OSEG's financials are the stadium's 50-year-old north-side stands, which were not replaced when the stadium was refurbished as part of the Lansdowne redevelopment.
While the city owns the stadium and paid $130 million to fix it up, OSEG operates it year-round and has spent $25 million to fix leaks and make other improvements.
The north-side seats are also not as conducive to the party atmosphere of the south side.
"We hear from our fans that the experiences that they have on the south side are tremendously better than the north side," said Roger Greenberg, OSEG's executive chairman.
Replacing the north stands is no easy task, as it would likely affect the Redblacks season and the arena beneath the seats.
There's also a question of who would pay. When asked if OSEG would be looking for the city to make additional capital investments in Lansdowne, Greenberg said it was too early to say, as the strategic review isn't due until June.
But he did point out that the entire stadium complex "is a city asset" and that "OSEG doesn't own the stadium."
Buildings underused, says Greenberg
One idea that OSEG is floating is better access from Lansdowne to the Queen Elizabeth Driveway and the Rideau Canal, which are both on the east side of the property.
Greenberg said he'd like the National Capital Commission and other federal agencies to be part of the discussions on how to "improve the experience" for Lansdowne visitors.
Greenberg also told reporters that the two city-owned heritage buildings on the site aren't being used as much as they could be — and suggested that OSEG could do better.
"Aberdeen is not being fully used," said Greenberg. "I think there are more uses for Horticulture. These are things [where] I think we can bring our skill set to bear."
Mayor Jim Watson said he'd be open to the idea of OSEG programming the entire site.
Need an extra 1M people
One in three Ottawans have never been to Lansdowne even once, according to OSEG.
When asked what's keeping them away, OSEG CEO Mark Goudie said there isn't a wide enough variety of programming.
"It's having things at Lansdowne that's relevant to them at the end of the day," Goudie told reporters. "I think we can play a better role in music in Ottawa … I think there are cool things happening all over the world in neat places that deserve to be in Ottawa."
"Our job is to go and figure out what those things are and how we can bring them to Lansdowne," he added.
Goudie mentioned that OSEG has booked a Bavarian-style Christmas market this year, much like the one at the Distillery District in Toronto, as an example of the multi-day events that he says are vital to increasing both traffic and revenue.
The Glebe development attracted almost four million visitors in 2017 — up from fewer than three million in 2015. OSEG wants to attract an additional million each year.
Move away from events: local councillor
But Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard doesn't think more events are the answer.
Menard said events don't bring people to the site on many weekdays, a problem that OSEG has also acknowledged.
"It's clear that the current vision for Lansdowne — a place of big events and bigger festivals — has failed, neither bringing sustained financial benefits nor fostering a consistent, active and animated urban environment," said Menard in a statement.
Recently, an electronics shop and trendy espresso chain left Lansdowne.
Among other things, Menard wants the Lansdowne site to be more pedestrian-friendly, with less surface parking.
He also suggested that Aberdeen Square be more animated with public furniture — "Maybe giant swings!" he says — and free community "where people can stop in to read, work or drink coffee" in either an empty storefront or at the Horticulture Building.