Friday, October 17, 2008

Lansdowne Live: Developers Shenk one; or, this dog-and-pony show won't Hunt

The pro sports scene in Ottawa could turn Norman Vincent Peale into a cynic.

Dated references are called for after watching the Lansdowne Live, so-called, press conference. It was like walking into a time warp, right down to the knob from Heritage Ottawa asking about the stupid cattle castle that should have been torn down long ago. It was very hard to watch without coming away feeling like nothing will get done with the site any time soon. Roger Greenberg (gotta be careful here, I rent from Minto!) more or less had to backtrack and say, "This is more of a concept plan."

It sucks to be anyone who thought they were getting decisive action or anything new. This was a first draft.

The upshot is that if you go by historical significance, the site has been for pro sports. It's one way to honour history (and a few business portfolios). Given today's gong show, it would not be surprising if this ends with the city throwing up its hands and saying that is how it has to be. (That's how Kingston got the K-Rock Centre, people!)

It just probably won't happen in time for the 2010 CFL season, as good friend Pete Toms predicted during a chat some time ago.

It would feel wrong to cross over the bridge and see condominiums and stores selling crap that no one needs. It would be a selling-off of a shared heritage, and that is important, although not as important as the knob from Heritage Ottawa would have you believe. Greenspace is good, but it's also prime real estate in the centre of the city. Money talks and leftie lingo walks, so that's not happening. It would amount to cutting a hole in the city's pocket at a time when it's having trouble paying for snow removal.

The main point is that today probably did not do much to sway anyone in either direction, and that's sad. That's too bad, because it sucks to feel like a jerk for just seeing this as more business-as-usual.

This is coming from someone who would love to watch a CFL game -- and to borrow one add-on from today, "perhaps pro soccer, too!" -- here at some point before he moves on to his next city. Suffice to say, to Roger Greenberg, Jeff Hunt, John Ruddy and Bill Shenkman, you are each more brilliant and successful than I will ever be, and it's fair bet none of you ended up spending Thanksgiving alone. Gentleman, though, you're going to have to do a lot better than you did today if there will ever be another CFL team -- "and perhaps, pro soccer too!" playing in this city.

Anyway, the rest is all bullet-pointed:

  • As you can guess, the MLS was an afterthought, save for Hunt telling Rogers 22 that you couldn't put a stadium on the "outskirts" of town. There were two Roughriders football helmets on the table and one artist's conception of the stadium not-so-subtly included a soccer ball in the middle of the field. They didn't come off as credible when talking about soccer, though. No one spoke from the Ottawa Fury, which a lot more in touch with soccer at the grass roots. That's simply a gut feeling.

    There was a mention that the Gatineau entry in a new Quebec semi-pro league (eye-roll) would be interested in playing there. Where was the Fury, though?

  • Ottawa city councillor Clive Doucet, whatever you think of his politics, killed it. He told Rogers 22, "It's the tail wagging the dog. Good for them, but they're sharks and I don't want to be eaten." ... "It's not an urban oasis, it's a big-business vision."

    The man gives good sound-bite.

  • Hunt claimed that there is a "correlation between world-class stadiums and the success of the teams who play in them." Two words: "PNC Park." Or "Safeco Field."

    Between the Boston Red Sox (96-year-old stadium), Tampa Bay Rays (whose stadium is a dump), Super Bowl champion New York Giants (stadium opened 1975), last season's Stanley Cup finalists, the Detroit Red Wings (arena opened 1979) and Pittsburgh Penguins (1961), teams in aging stadia seem to do OK. There doesn't seem to be a strong cause-and-effect.

  • One of the Glebeites asked why the developers just don't buy the stadium. Two minutes of Wiki'ing answered that question -- there are no privately owned stadiums in the CFL. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a community-owned team, own their stadium. The Toronto Argonauts rent Rogers Centre. The other six are all government- or university-owned. Ottawa cannot come back into the league under such a financial burden, even though the CFL supposedly has a salary cap.
Sorry, but it's just been a frustrating couple of hours. To CFL commish Mark Cohon, here's hoping you're calling Halifax, Moncton and Quebec City right now, to tell them to get a move on.


Duane Rollins said...

Do you think the MLS stuff rushed them into a presentation today before they really had anything to say...or are they just clueless?

Anonymous said...

I like the concept and the look of the place as seen on their web site.

Duane is probably right that Melnyk's plan spooked this group into releasing the plan two or three months too early. We still need the engineering study on what is left of the stadium to know what needs to be done, and how much it will cost the city.

There will be plenty of opposition as many Ottawans are very suspicious of big money developers and will not want to give an inch to them.

I hope the proposal eventually flies, but I won't be dusting off my old RR ball cap or volume of "Great Aquariums of the World "yet.


sager said...

More competive instinct than anything else... here's some particulars from the CP, which of course is buried halfway down the story:

"More interesting, however, is the competition that’s emerging between the CFL group and Eugene Melnyk’s Senators Sports & Entertainment.
Earlier this week, Melnyk, owner of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, officially submitted through his group a bid for an expansion Major League Soccer franchise.

"Tied to that bid is a $100-million soccer-specific stadium near the Senators’ Scotiabank Place home. With the city unlikely to back both, it’s essentially become a choice between pro football, pro soccer, or neither.

"Although both facilities have said they could accommodate both sports, they’ve ruled out any partnership and there appears to be no love lost between the two sides.

"Asked about the possibility of a partnership with Melnyk’s group, Bill Shenkman, chairman of the Shenkman Group of Companies, said representatives from the groups met and ruled out the idea.

"Both Shenkman and Hunt said they have no interest in bringing an MLS club to Ottawa, although soccer would be accommodated in other ways. Shenkman is a shareholder in Millwall FC, which plays soccer in England’s League One, and plans are already in place for that club to play a pre-season friendly in Ottawa next August.

“ 'We’re not asking him anything. He had his press conference, very short on details,' Shenkman said in reference to a news conference Melnyk held last month to launch the MLS bid. 'They were absolutely clear they were not interesting in sharing or participating in any partnership.

“It was Scotiabank Place or nothing and MLS or nothing.”

"Shortly after Friday’s news conference by the CFL group, Melnyk issued his own statement, which appeared to highlight some of the potential flaws in the downtown plan.

“ 'Today’s proposal gives our community another alternative to consider in resolving the city’s future for a multi-purpose outdoor stadium. Today’s option will provide healthy and constructive debate on a vitally important issue for our city,' it read."