Ottawa

Auditors find risks, gaps in city's oversight of Lansdowne deal

Independent auditors have found both "gaps" and "limitations" in how the city tracks one of its largest public-private partnerships, the 30-year deal with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group at Lansdowne Park and TD Place.

Council vote to extend partnership by 10 years could be delayed to Dec. 9

Under the 2014 agreement, OSEG runs the stadium and sports teams, parking garage and commercial areas at Lansdowne Park, while the city retains ownership of the land. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Independent auditors have found both "gaps" and "limitations" in how the city tracks one of its largest public-private partnerships, the 30-year deal with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) at Lansdowne Park and TD Place.

Under the 2014 agreement, OSEG runs the stadium and sports teams, parking garage and commercial areas at Lansdowne, and also covers any deficits, while the city retains ownership of the land, runs the park and put $210 million into the redevelopment.

This latest audit into the complicated "waterfall" agreement builds on themes from an earlier 2017 audit and its followup, which found city staff lacked understanding and oversight of the complex contracts.

This time, auditors pointed out staff only scrutinize how the Lansdowne partnership's annual accounting compares to the previous year, which doesn't give them much insight into whether the deal is living up to expectations.

"It's like you're not benchmarking, so you don't have a sense of what you expected originally," explained deputy auditor Sonia Brennan.

Auditors said the city manager's office couldn't even produce a copy of the original assumptions and financial model from 2009 that led to OSEG's proposal being approved.

The north side stands of TD Place at Lansdowne Park, and the arena under them, were constructed in the 1960s. (Kate Porter/CBC)

OSEG contribution 'overstated'

Another gap is related to the more than $100 million in additional funds OSEG's owners have injected into Lansdowne, and on which they accumulate eight per cent interest each year.

The city has no direct role in approving those extra OSEG contributions, auditors noted. That matters because in the "waterfall" order of financial priorities, OSEG owners get paid out before the city receives any return on its investment.

Auditors also found the amount owners had contributed was "overstated" by $6.5 million after OSEG and the city settled a dispute over steel corrosion in the TD Place roof. That could lead to an extra $14 million in interest accumulated over the life of the deal.

The auditors and financial staff disagreed about whether this was an accounting error, and auditor general Ken Hughes did underscore there was no "bad faith" on the part of OSEG.

City executives accepted all 11 recommendations, but city manager Steve Kanellakos said he felt staff had "stringent oversight over what's happening with the waterfall."

He also said staff still firmly recommend city council extend the deal at Lansdowne to 2054 and allow OSEG access to a reserve fund to help the group deal with the pandemic's blow to its retail and sports teams .

Originally, the audit was supposed to immediately rise to full city council Wednesday, the same day council was to vote on that revised deal with OSEG. Mayor Jim Watson is now expected to delay both until council meets Dec. 9.

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