This morning, I had the chance to chat with George Dark, who is heading up the Lansdowne Strategic Design Review and Advisory Panel. To bring people up to speed, as part of moving forward with the Lansdowne Live plan, the city opted to appoint a design panel to help sort out what the whole thing is actually going to look like.
I was already generally supportive of the Lansdowne Live plan, mostly because I was pretty sure that we were going to let hopes of the BEST PLAN EVER get in the way of something that we can all use and enjoy, but this makes me a lot more hopeful. Coming from this, I think its a lot clearer that much of what we’ve already seen is largely a first draft, that we sorta know what the pieces that are going to be used are, but not actually what exact form they’ll take. That’s a good sign.
There is also room for optimism in that it sounds like there is going to be, or is at least an option for, public consultation in the early design phase. So, bidding companies will be encouraged to actually come and talk to the people that live here to help shape their proposal. That’s a good thing for a project that, rightly or wrongly, has left a nasty feeling of being imposed. We should all get uppity and make sure that happens.
This morning I spoke with Roger Greenberg, CEO of Minto, one of the three organizations behind the Lansdowne Live proposal. You may recall that I spoke with Clive Doucet (who I presume is the Councillor that Mr. Greenberg refers to) about this matter back in April.
In any case, the proposal goes before Council this week. Expect a mess of public delegations on Thursday, and I can only presume a heated debate amongst Councillors on Friday. I presume that efforts will be made to change the staff report suggesting that this plan move ahead, making it unclear what might actually be accepted in the end.
For what its worth, I am very much concerned that rejecting this proposal will just leave Lansdowne in the state that it is for the foreseeable future, which would be the real tragedy. I think that any development needs to be mixed-use, and think that a lot can be done to make any retail component something more than just a mall and benefit neighbouring businesses in the Glebe. How successful we are at this will determine how successful the new plan is. I also worry that we are developing a nasty habit of comparing every tangible proposal with every imaginable ideal one (and dread when we start to talk about the transit tunnel in greater detail.)
Image Courtesy of Flickr user spotmaticfanatic, NC-BY-ND
This morning I spoke with Capital Ward Councilor Clive Doucet on the City Staff report on the two stadium proposals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he took a rather dim view on both of them. For another perspective, Randall Denley takes a dim view of the tone of the report itself (he thinks they were looking for ways for it to fail), you should also read what David Reevely has to say over at Greater Ottawa, though that is generally a good rule of thumb.
This will be a bit longer than my usual podcast posts, if only as it is a good opportunity to roll in my own thoughts on the matter. If you are reading a blog and can’t handle a little bit of narcissism, you probably should give up on the internet.
I’m mostly interested in the Lansdowne question, and never was really a big fan of the Kanata plan (largely for geographical biases.) I’m torn on the whole affair. I think that we are too quick to equate the question of what to do with Lansdowne with the question of whether or not this city needs or wants a new largish sports stadium. On the second question, I am pretty sure that we probably can support one, and have every confidence that a competent ownership group could make football or, well, football work. Remember, a CFL team survived in this city for the better part of a century, and we are a bigger more prosperous city than before: the failure of the Roughriders and the Renegades must be seen not as a dislike for football, but an absolute failure of the ownership to convince people to pay to go and see it. So, to a certain extent I am sympathetic to Denley’s calls to look at the cost of a stadium, however it is financed, over a longer term.
But that says nothing about whether or not it should be at Lansdowne. Doucet does a bit of an artful dodge on the merits of the city building a big stadium, but he is pretty clear that he doesn’t think it should be where it is now. I think I sort of agree. Putting another stadium at Lansdowne is pretty much building the park around the status quo, even if there is associated new commercial development associated with it. I’m not so much opposed to that as I am interested in seeing what other cool ideas could be brought to the table – be it a new library, some sort of museum, or whatever. I just don’t want this city to get caught thinking that the places things have been in the past is where they should always be.
I also want any redevelopment to encourage the public to go and hang out: I spent three weeks in France last August (pictures and blogs are coming, I swear!), and my favourite parts were sitting at outdoor cafés in public squares. I want the new Lansdowne Park to have that feel. That might still mean a stadium is located there, it might not. I have every faith that there will be developers interested in whatever plan moves forward, so am not super concerned about the current proposed management group walking away as they might if the “Live” plan is rejected. I also have every faith that if a new football stadium were to be built at Bayview, that a tenant could be found and the community would benefit from nightlife and spinoffs. That part of town would probably benefit from such a tenant.
So, the city has been offered a false dichotomy: it is not a question of soccer in Kanata or football in the glebe. It must absolutely do something with Lansdowne park, it also must decide whether or not it wants to be in the Stadium business. These are different questions, both of of which come with a certain amount of cost. Both are projects that have been a long time coming and, if done right, will benefit the city for decades to come. I could live with what Hunt and Co. have proposed, but worry that we’d be settling with the familiar and the safe. That’s not what this city needs more of, but at the same time it’s preferable to waiting 5 or more years and end up accepting more or less the same plan.
And let’s be fair: that’s what we all are assuming is going to happen.
One important thing to note about the list of cool ideas: it notably doesn’t include a football stadium. Which is odd, because yesterday an editorial described bringing football back to the site a must (no link- page f4, Oct. 26, “Lansdowne Park: Let’s Get it Right.”) Today, they quote the “father of Kanata”:
Ottawa developer Bill Teron, the father of Kanata, believes football is a great asset enjoyed by many people, but he says sports can be a shaky foundation for development. He points to the empty stadium left by the Lynx. “I was a director of the Ottawa Football Club and I know how fragile it was as an undertaking.”
Now, I like most of the ideas in the cool list- though if the Glebe is annoyed by 2 weeks of amusement park, I can’t imagine that they would appreciate a years worth of it- and am generally dubious of the prospects of bringing football back to the site. We forget that the 67′s are already a top draw there, and something like a new central library (a la Vancouver, perhaps) would be the kind of thing that will add value to the city while still being super-functional. In contrast, we’ve had two kicks at the football over the past decade, and both have failed pretty miserably. Part of that might be the stadium; Montreal certainly re-established itself when they moved to a smaller stadium (matched with better on-field product).
I guess my point is that I think focusing the redevelopment of the site around a very large, and very expensive, stadium that may sit empty 10, heck maybe even 3, years from now. I also am reluctant to cede much of the rest of the property so that someone will build that stadium for us; and am similarly apprehensive to make the biggest remaining, and one in which the city has almost total control, developed around a stadium used 5 months a year exclusively for paying customers.