Capital gains: CFL welcomes back Ottawa

The CFL is headed back to the nation's capital — again.

The CFL is headed back to the nation's capital — again.

League commissioner Mark Cohon announced Tuesday afternoon that Ottawa will receive a conditional expansion franchise that could begin play as early as 2010.

The ownership group of the new team is led by Jeff Hunt, the owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67s.

"This is an exciting time for the CFL and the city of Ottawa," Cohon said. "I am guardedly optimistic and excited at the same time."

A major hurdle for Hunt and his group, which will pay a $7-million expansion fee, is Frank Clair Stadium. In 2007, the City of Ottawa recommended the lower tier of the south-side stands at the stadium be demolished because of structural concerns.

Hunt's group must first hammer out a lease agreement with civic officials on a reconstruction plan for Lansdowne Park, where Frank Clair Stadium is located, before its team can take to the field.

"That [a stadium] is the condition and that is why we're calling this a conditional franchise," Cohon said. "I believe that the job of the CFL and the commissioner … is to find the business leaders, to find the community leaders and to find the sports leaders.

"It's now in their capable hands to make sure we bring football back to the nation's capital in a stadium and a facility that the CFL and the fans here deserve."

This marks Ottawa's third attempt at fielding a CFL team, with the Rough Riders enjoying the longest stretch. The franchise began play in 1876 and captured nine Grey Cups, including three between 1960 and 1970. The last one came in 1976.

However, the Rough Riders were forced to fold following the 1996 season. The city was awarded another franchise and began play in 2002 — this time as the Renegades — but ownership issues caused the league to suspend operations four years later.

The belief is that Hunt can be successful where others have failed, as he has been credited with turning the 67's into one of the top junior hockey clubs in Canada.

This is not the first time Hunt has tried to purchase a CFL franchise for Ottawa.

Last year, he was part of the Golden Gate Capital group that was thought of as the leader among three bids to land a CFL expansion franchise for Ottawa. However, Golden Gate was forced to bow out of the bidding after a prominent group member was diagnosed with cancer.

With files from Canadian Press