Backgrounder

FRIENDS OF LANSDOWNE: WHERE WE STAND – SEPTEMBER 2010

The Friends of Lansdowne is a citywide citizens’ coalition that supports the revitalization of Lansdowne Park as a great public space. Lansdowne, a historic 37.5-acre park next to the Rideau Canal, has belonged to the people of Ottawa for over 140 years. It needs to be revitalized in a way that is consistent with its heritage values and that will be sustainable for generations to come. As a valuable public resource, Lansdowne’s redevelopment must be guided by a process that is fair, open and fiscally responsible.

The City of Ottawa has called Lansdowne Park a ‘crown jewel’. Yet it has neglected the property for decades and allowed it to fall into disrepair. And now, instead of following through on its decision to hold an international design competition to plan the future of this outstanding site, the City has formed a partnership with developers that will effectively privatize most of the property. Only about one-third of Lansdowne is being retained as a public park and designed through a public process.

The Friends of Lansdowne believes that the City’s development process for Lansdowne Park has been deeply flawed. It has ignored the principles of open and fair public process, and violated the City of Ottawa’s official plan, procurement rules, and long-standing urban planning and public consultation practices.

We also believe that the Lansdowne Partnership Plan, as currently envisaged, will be bad for the City. It will present a burden to taxpayers, will diminish the site’s heritage and recreational values, and have negative impacts on surrounding communities. Furthermore, if this plan goes ahead, the City of Ottawa will have squandered the opportunity to create a great public space at Lansdowne Park.

Key Concerns

The Lansdowne Partnership Plan is multifaceted and extremely complex. Accordingly, the Friends of Lansdowne’s concerns are many and varied.

Concerns about the Process

The City has ignored its normal competitive bidding process. It has pursued an agreement with one consortium of developers based on a single proposal without appropriate consideration of alternatives or best value for taxpayers. Most of the negotiations with these developers have been carried out in private and without public scrutiny. There are serious ethical and legal concerns with the process that has been followed.

Concerns about Public Consultation

Public consultations on Lansdowne have been rushed, cursory and superficial. Council made the key decisions about its approach to Lansdowne (i.e. sole sourcing, new stadium location, major retail and residential component) in April 2009 without undertaking any public consultation. Later open houses, online discussions and surveys were designed to sell the project rather than to seek public views. What is more, there has been no direct or meaningful consultation of those living close to Lansdowne who will be directly affected by the development.

Concerns about the Burden to Taxpayers

The plan calls for public investment of approximately $130 million in the stadium, arena and parking facilities. In addition, the City will need to invest about $35 million for the urban park and more millions on relocating SuperEx, and developing a new tradeshow facility for shows displaced from Lansdowne. The City will need to borrow this money and pay interest on it. At the same time, it will lease 10 acres of prime public land to developers for a rent of only $1 a year. The way the financial deal is structured, taxpayers bear most of the burden and the risk.

Concerns about the Scale of Development

The Lansdowne Partnership Plan will convert 10 acres of public land into a commercial and residential complex with high-rise condos and over 300,000 sq. ft of retail. The built form of the development is incompatible with the traditional main street along Bank Street and the character of the neighbouring residential communities. The shopping complex will have more retail than all existing retail in the community combined and will compete unfairly with local businesses. Massive commercialization is a poor use of public land along the canal.

Concerns about the Ottawa Farmers Market

Even though the City says it will provide a place for the Ottawa Farmers Market, it is unlikely that farmers will be able to compete next to the large commercial grocery store proposed for Lansdowne Park. If the market fails, then the historic rural connection with Lansdowne will be severed.

Concerns about Heritage

Lansdowne Park has a fascinating history as an agricultural fairground and a civic gathering place and is home to 2 designated heritage buildings. This heritage will be put at risk with the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. The Heritage Canada Foundation has named Lansdowne Park to its list of top ten endangered places in Canada. The Ontario Heritage Trust and Heritage Ottawa have both expressed grave concerns about the proposed Lansdowne development. If The City goes ahead with the plans, the Aberdeen Pavilion National Historic Site will be hidden among retail stores, the integrity of the Horticulture Building will be destroyed by relocation, and the overall heritage character of Lansdowne as an open, public space will be lost.

Concerns about Traffic

The existing transportation infrastructure cannot possibly handle the traffic that will be generated by this scale of Lansdowne redevelopment. Building a stadium, major commercial complex, infill housing and an urban park without a rapid transit system is shortsighted when Ottawa is about to build a $2.7 billion light rail system. Bank Street, already congested, will be gridlocked. Gridlock will render Lansdowne Park inaccessible to citizens living in other parts of the city, and will adversely impact the quality of life of those who live nearby.

Concerns about Parking

If the City were to build what is proposed for Lansdowne anywhere else, it would require that it provide 10,000 parking spots. Yet, Lansdowne will have only about 1/10th of that number. Lack of on-site parking will mean a huge burden on residential streets. It may also in the long-term lead to the failure of Lansdowne as a destination.

Concerns about Parks and Recreation

There won’t be much park at Lansdowne Park if the partnership plan goes ahead. The majority of the property will be covered by buildings while existing recreational uses, such as amateur soccer and high school sports, will be displaced. In addition, Sylvia Holden Commemorative Park, stretching along Holmwood, between Bank and O’Connor and representing 1/10th of the existing parkland in the local community, will be destroyed.

Concerns about Community Impacts

The proposed development will negatively impact the health, wellbeing and safety of residents in surrounding communities. Noise, traffic, pollution, and crowds from an estimated 90 events a year will diminish the quality of life of citizens living nearby in established residential communities.

Concerns about Privatization and Loss of Public Control

If the Lansdowne Partnership Plan goes ahead, 2/3rds of Lansdowne will for all intents and purposes cease to be a public place. It will be covered by private residences, stores, offices, professional sports facilities and businesses. It is unclear who will manage and operate Lansdowne Park but at present it appears that most of the day-to-day management will be by a private corporation not public employees.

Concerns about the stadium

The City proposes to spend nearly $130 million of tax dollars to refurbish an aging stadium and build related parking facilities. The main purpose is to accommodate a CFL football team — a franchise that has failed twice in recent years in Ottawa. Another stadium, built for baseball in Ottawa, sits empty most of the time. Should football fail again, taxpayers will face even greater costs.

Even if Ottawa needs a new stadium for major sports events is Lansdowne the best place? According to the city’s own assessment, the answer is no. There are five better locations, because a stadium needs parking and access to rapid transit. It is not in the public interest for the City to fund a renovation for a stadium that is in the wrong location to meet public needs.

Concerns about the Failure to Explore Alternatives

These developers are not the only group willing and able to transform Lansdowne Park. The City has refused to consider other ideas and offers. There are alternatives that make more sense, can be implemented gradually, will offer citizens a better result and will cost taxpayers less. For example, the City could seek provincial and federal funding to develop the site or sell a small strip of land to give the City revenues to revitalize the rest of the site.

Concerns about the Premature Approval

When City Council approved the Lansdowne Partnership Plan in June 2010, it did not have full information. They (and we) do not know the boundaries of the urban park, where the Horticulture building is located, or how the site will be governed. Council won’t get these details until November 2010 (after the municipal election). Approving the plan while there are still many outstanding issues to resolve was unnecessary and imprudent.

Friends of Lansdowne believes that there are just too many concerns with the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. We want the City to start a fresh Lansdowne process that follows the City’s own policies and that engages the public constructively. It is not too late. Despite the June 2010 decision, the planning is far from complete, and the City can still withdraw without penalty.

It is too costly to get Lansdowne wrong. Let’s Get it Right!