Monday, February 16, 2009

MLS in Ottawa: Eunibomber drops the big one

The race to get to the trough is on and we'll see who finishes first.
"Eugene Melnyk's company, Senators Sports and Entertainment, wants to build on to its existing recreation hub — Scotiabank Place and the Sensplex nearby — by seeing the city build a stadium that would house a Major League Soccer franchise, creating an 'entertainment village' that would attract something in the order of four million visits a year." — Ottawa Citizen
Please bear in mind that just because Mr. Eugene says he's going to do it doesn't mean it will happen. Never, ever underestimate the incompetence and foot-dragging of Ottawa city council.

It is understandable if people see this is a body blow to the Lansdowne Live! plan, especially since Roger Shenkman, John Ruddy, et al., could end up cutting friendly neighbourhood frontman Jeff Hunt out of the picture to get a piece of action. Don't be so hasty; Duane and others on It's Called Football (you can access it through The 24th Minute) pointed out that MLS commish Don Garber tends to praise every potential expansion city to the skies, and the local media in each city tend not to notice the "pillow whispers" (Ben Knight's term) he's giving to each of the other cities.

The ballpark village is, in good friend Pete Toms' phrase, is "all the rage" in the U.S., since it is a way to dress up the fact that sports magnates are sucking at the public teat. Pete wrote an extensive piece, "When Stadium Financing and the Recession Collide" (The Biz of Baseball, Jan. 20) that covered the subject very thoroughly.

There is a huge scramble on, especially since the federal governments in both the Canada and U.S. are ready to throw money at projects which are, wait for it, "shovel ready." Melnyk can also sell this as part of Canada's push to host the 2015 Women's World Cup, a point which seems to have sailed past a lot of people, with Duane as a notable excpetion.

Please keep in mind that a lot of these stadium village projects are having trouble taking form. That's a big unacknowledged part of this story. The Wiki for the ballpark village in St. Louis next to the current Cardinals baseball stadium refers to it as "a big embarrassing turd right in the middle of the city." (It will probably get more attention this summer when the Cardinals host the baseball all-star game.)

Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff "heard crickets" (Examiner, Feb. 14) when he pitched a ballpark village for Fremont, California. (Wolff might have switched his sights to San Jose, where he owns , wait for it, a MLS team. Another proposed for Arlington, Texas has never got off the ground.

Beyond that, anyone who wants to build one of these has to have financing. They need tenants for any retail development. They also need developers willing to build homes in the area.

The bottom line is you cannot predict where this is headed, especially considering the rot of incumbency that permeates Ottawa city council (how are you coming along with light rail, everyone?).

In the short term, it means that two of Ottawa's irreplaceable amateur sports institutions, the Hunt's 67s in the OHL and the Ottawa Gee-Gees in CIS football, are in a bit of flux. However, and this is just coming from an outsider, it seems like Ottawa has had a blind spot with this for a good 15, 20 years, and it's caught up to them. A lot of people want something new.

The irony is original Senators owner Bruce Firestone, Cyril Leeder and co. wanted to do this two decades ago out in Kanata; they had projections of "profits that would scrape the sky," and everyone doubted them. It seems like were information rich, but cash poor.

(Incidentally, Duane pointed out the B.C. Place project for footy is a "disaster," which runs counter to what the Paper of Record said last Saturday.)

Melnyk plans ‘entertainment village’; Project would include offices, restaurants, bars, apartments, hotels for area near Senators’ arena (Patrick Dare, Ottawa Citizen)


GoGades said...

Eugene's 'entertainment village' seems like a big "oh yea, me too !" attempt to catch up to Lansdowne Live... From what I've seen, they've produced exactly one artist rendering...

The Ekos survey published in the Citizen was very clear - that vast majority of ppl do not want a Kanata stadium, but are split on the MLS vs CFL debate.

If this plays out as I expect, Melnyk will muddy the water just enough that both projects will die on the vine.

Duane Rollins said...

BigSoccer opened an Ottawa forum today.

Dennis Prouse said...

Please - did you see those rushed, vague sketches in the paper today? Was the ink even dry on those before they ran them out to the media? I can just see Melnyk, fuming at the positive coverage Lansdowne Live got last week, ordering his minions to whip up some artist renderings of his latest "plan". You have to give Cyril Leeder points for chutzpah, though, taking the fact that similar plans were laid out by Firestone 20 years ago and holding it out as some kind of virtue instead of the massive failure it was.

The public, as usual, is way ahead of the politicians. The poll clearly showed Lansdowne as the preferred location. No one I have spoken to can fathom why we would double down on the mistake that was made when SBP was built in Kanata. I have no problem with Eugene Melnyk building his brains out beside his arena. Heck, give him all the rezoning he wants, and let him have the snow dump. Using taxpayer money to build a stadium out there, though, and leaving Lansdowne to continue to deteriorate, is beyond stupid. Fortunately, the public is giving confused councillors a clear choice.

sager said...

Well, I'll ask, since it was before my time — that plan failed because the politicians wouldn't let it happen, among other reasons?

I too can't see any great reason to build out there, other than in any the name of quote, unquote development. The "stadium village" concept seems to have caught the fancy of a lot of sports operators, but putting it together talks a lot of finessing, a lot of financing and a lot of luck.

Toronto went through this all with the Leafs and Raptors in the '90s and ultimately got a new downtown arena. I'm still pretty confident they'll build downtown since it's the will of the people, but I'm trying to pass along word of what's going on in other cities.

I know, this is Ottawa, you're not supposed to let on there are other cities (kidding).

(Also, Lansdowne Live is directly derivative of L.A. Live in So. California, so there is some copycatting.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dennis that this is just an attempt to outflank the LL group. Development around SBP has been on the books for twenty years. This "entertainment center" is more a collection of office buildings and homes with supporting restaurants .
I notice that the announcement did not mention any time lines as to when construction of it would start or finish relative to building the proposed stadium. Development around SBP will probably happen within the next twenty years, regardless of whether there is a stadium there or not. It will happen when developers and investors feel that the stars are aligned in their favour.

Today, Hunt shot back with the threat of Ottawa's beloved 67's disappearing, He pointed out that taring down FC's north grandstand would pretty well destroy the Civic Center. He said that SBP would not be suitable for his 67's operation.

If Melnyk wants his "entertainment enter" , I wonder if he would consider forgetting about another sport stadium and build a large amphitheater for concerts instead.Think "Hollywood Bowl" style, but smaller. Probably less expensive than a stadium and a MSL franchise but would be unusable in the cold weather months.

Our poor City Council has problems making simple decisions. Making a major choice like the one that will soon be in front of them, will probably tie them up in knots. Probably they will stretch it out to the next election, when it will be a major election issue and will be partly decided by who we elect.


Dennis Prouse said...

I know that Council would love to stretch this decision out further, because postponing tough choices is what governments do best. In this instance, though, they can't. The CFL has set a deadline for the conditional franchise, and a decision has to be made. It is imperative that some kind of decision be made on the future of Lansdowne Park, and it is up to our duly elected representatives to find a spine and make a decision. I am confident they will make the right one, but deadlines are needed unless you want them to keep delaying forever.

Pete Toms said...

Dennis, as I pointed out in a letter to the editor in OBJ this winter, the CFL deadline is a false one. The purpose of the "deadline" is to influence council. Cohon and the owners will cash Greenberg's $7 million cheque whether it is this year, next year or next decade.

The real deadline could be accessing the feds "stimulus" money. That money will be available only so long, and the politics behind who gets it will be well...politics as usual. Having said that, our municipal govt was offered $400 million by both the province and the feds for "transportation infrastructure" and managed to accomplish nothing except get sued by Siemens. My point is, perhaps they will again be too incompetent to get beyond the NIMBYism that rules municipal government and accomplish nothing again.

As for Melnyk, he gets a pretty soft ride in the local press because of his association with the Sens. But he is a crook, see the penalties both he and Biovail have had to pay for stock fraud. My point is, don't believe anything he says, including that all this development will spring up around his soccer stadium.

As for Terrace Investments initial plans (they were ahead of their time, 20 years later these mixed use developments are very popular) they were torpedoed by the OMB and Terrace's lack of funds.

As for the local politics, west end councillors (no surprise) Wilkinson, Qadri and Chantiry (IIRC) were all quoted today in favor...Doucet will always be opposed to CFL downtown...Deans has dredged up the past bad history between the CFL and the city....Hume (the next mayor) initially called for a "design competition" along with Doucet but has been very quiet since...

My money is on the Lansdowne proposal. Minto has more schlep with council than Melnyk and if council passes up this opportunity to rejuvenate Lansdowne it could continue to decay for decades.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

I don't understand how the redeveloped B.C. Place can be declared a "disaster" before any of the renovations are done and a single soccer game is played there. Is it ideal? Probably not, but it could work quite well. The problem for Melnyk and his supporters is that if it does, it puts the kibbosh to the idea that soccer-specific stadiums are vital and that MLS can't coexist with the CFL, so there's obviously motivation to trash it before we see the results.

Dennis Prouse said...

FWIW, the retail mall they put up beside Gillette Stadium in Foxboro is faltering badly. Apparently people have no reason to go to the stadium on a non-game day. Who would have guessed?

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between foxboro and kanata.Foxboro has a population of around 16,000 and so yes you can see ta city like that would rely on people from out side of the area.While kanata alone has a population of 90,000 then you have nepean with about 120,000 etc.So yes there isa difference.