Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ottawa's stadium debate — Roger Greenberg wants to see the colour of their money

Time will tell whether Lansdowne Live lynchpin Roger Greenberg is bluffing.

(Update: Here's a load off for the CFL fans. The wheels are in motion to write a motion to enter into negotiations with Lansdowne Live.)

That might mean it was not such a risk on Friday:
"(Greenberg) said council has to make a 'decision in principle" to support his group's proposal when it meets next week. He said if council postpones a decision and asks for more studies as city staff recommended, his group will walk.

" 'We want a decision now from council. If council approves another study for six months we are out,' Greenberg said.

" 'What is a deal breaker is if our proposal is rejected.'

"Greenberg, who has teamed up with a group of Ottawa businessmen to redevelop Lansdowne Park for a Canadian Football League franchise, said he is not interested in playing football at the proposed soccer stadium in Kanata, which is being promoted by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk." — Ottawa Citizen
It's understandable that Greenberg would go that route, although it seems possible the Citizen might have picked up the ball and run with it just a bit. (It's early in the game, so perhaps Greenberg takes it down a notch between now and next Wednesday, you never know.)

Ottawa residents, knowing how things are run in this city, probably are right to fear that a largely dysfunctional city council might make Greenberg, et al., take their ball and go home. This also kind of does lay bare that Lansdowne Live is really about big business than recapturing the glory days of Tony Gabriel going deep for a long bomb from Tommy Clements, but you knew that already. That's not an anti-CFL sentiment, it's just an acknowledgment this is business first, sports second. The CFL is not that high-dollar a league.

Meantime, Greenberg seemed more even-handed when talking with the Ottawa Sun. He described the one compromise the city has floated — put a stadium in Kanata and a hockey arena at Lansdowne Park — "a win for (Eugene) Melnyk, it would be a win for our group financially ... it would be a loss for the city of Ottawa."

In all honesty, and this a personal opinion, an arena at Lansdowne and a stadium at Scotiabank Place sounds like chasing two rabbits and catching none writ large. The point is Greenberg's ploy, if that was what it was and not someone talking his words out of context, is justifiable. People are also right to worry the city might get its back up, but surely they realize this is bigger than them.

It's come to the point where one humble suggestion from a no-doubt frustrated netizen on the Paper of Record's website was that Ottawa could save the $100 million it would be throwing toward the CFL and save it up in case they have to pay Siemens damages in the lawsuit over the cancelled light-rail project. That way, he reasoned, we'd only be out about $100 million, "sort of."

That's the kind of cynicism everyone will have to work to overcome when the city does get a summer team (baseball, football, soccer) again.

One more poinis that as much as the NIMBYers want to call a stadium a luxury, Ottawa cannot afford to not build something. The Regina Leader-Post's Rider Rumblings noted a comment from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, with regard to a new stadium that would house the Roughriders:
"Now is the time to do it, with steel prices low and construction costs a little bit low. There's interesting things around the world. In Stockholm, they're building a stadium like the University of Arizona or University of Phoenix. It's smaller — 30,000 seats with a retractable roof — for around $350 million, which is a lot of money, but the costs are coming down." (Emphasis mine.)
(Apparently, they haven't started building yet in the Swedish capital, but a point is a point.)

Indecision and a lack of vision (Chris Stevenson, Sun Media)
Lansdowne stadium group confident (Shane Ross, Sun Media)
Take our Lansdowne proposal now or we walk: developer (Mohamed Adam, Ottawa Citizen)


GoGades said...

Little wonder this blog has the reputation as soccer astroturfers...

Sager, how about quoting your own newspaper, to get a fuller picture.


"One “win-win” compromise that has been raised by the city would be to build a multipurpose stadium in Kanata, develop nine acres along Bank St. for the Lansdowne group, and tear down Frank Clair Stadium and the Civic Centre and build a new arena for Hunt.

Greenberg acknowledged “that would be a win for Melnyk, it would be a win for our group financially” but “it would be a loss for the city of Ottawa.”

“That’s trying to placate two developers,” Greenberg said. “Kanata is not the right place for a stadium.” "

Does that sound to you like the evil guy who's all about the big business, trying to rape the city ?

Of course, pointing that out doesn't further the soccer agenda... Why, Saint Melnyk of Barbados, he's ALL about altruism, I keep forgetting.

sager said...


I have added a link. Thanks for the heads-up. The Citizen was the only one with a story online when I went to write the post at 5:27. The Sun's story went online subsequently.

I can't direct readers to news stories which are not yet in print or the web. That is unethical, since this site is not affiliated with Sun Media and it wouldn't be fair to other bloggers who might have an interest in the story.

Soccer astroturfers doesn't sit well. This post expressed benefit of the doubt toward Mr. Greenberg: "... it seems possible the Citizen might have picked up the ball and run with it just a bit," i.e., sensationalized.

I'm well-aware how much is at stake emotionally for the people who have put their heart into getting the CFL back since 2006, but don't take it out on us.

It's hardly anti-CFL to say that this is big business first, football second. The CFL team is the carrot and the retail development is the stick, that's all. That's not evil; that's just the way it works with business guys. That's how you stay rich; you get someone else to pay for these big projects and reap a financial windfall. It's a scheme as old as time. It can be good for almost everyone if done right.

And like Greenberg says, "trying to placate two developers" ain't it. An arena at Lansdowne and a stadium at Scotiabank Place, that's trying to chase two rabbits and catching none writ large.

Dennis Prouse said...

GoGades beat me to it. Greenberg and Co. were offered a deal last week that would have allowed them to develop Lansdowne without the stadium. If this was nothing more than a Trojan horse for development, why would they not have taken the deal?

And yes, the the free ride that Melnyk gets from the Ottawa media in general is nauseating. I can only imagine how Lansdowne Live would have been treated by the media if its proponents had had anything even remotely resembling the, err, "colourful" business history Melnyk has had recently.

sager said...

Perhaps they couldn't take the deal because that would potentially restart the clock, and Messrs. Greenberg/Ruddy/Shenkman/Hunt don't want that. They want a deal in principle.

It also seems like they would lose a lot of face in the court of public opinion. Imagine the reaction the next day from the lead sports columnist in either paper and on The Team 1200 if they found out they had been strung along about a stadium. They would be risking a backlash in the community where they do business.

Meantime, this site has not given Mr. Melnyk a free ride, for what it is worth. It has called Mr. Eugene's SSSS (soccer-specific stadium scheme) a "footy fantasyland way out yonder in the wilds of Kan-a-ta" (March 11) and said it's fair to say he's playing Calvinball.

It also, on Oct. 19, posed the question of why there was so little Biovail coverage in the Ottawa papers. The owner of your NHL team team loses control of his own company, and it's not a major story? Come on.

Point being, a commenter said in October, "I have no problem with them making a buck if they also breath some life into (Lansdowne Park) and Ottawa as a whole." That is a reasonable statement, then as now.

Anonymous said...

Melnyk punts plan for dual-sport stadium

Mayor now putting full support behind developers' proposal to rebuild Frank Clair

By Randall Denley,
The Ottawa Citizen
April 18, 2009 8:39 AM

The idea of a dual-purpose football and soccer stadium in Kanata is dead. Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk won't agree to a deal that would have offered two professional sports teams at Melnyk's proposed stadium, Mayor Larry O'Brien said Friday.

Anonymous said...

Lansdowne's time is now

City-building can be a technical and sometimes tedious endeavour.

The Ottawa Citizen\
April 18, 2009

Debates involving terms like "infrastructure" and "density targets", while fun for the experts, are not always going to engage the public.

But every so often an issue becomes so clear that even the non-expert will instantly grasp the problem and recognize the solution. The inexcusable neglect of Lansdowne Park, and the urgency of its revitalization, is one of them. You don't need to be an urban theorist to see that a mostly abandoned sea of asphalt in the city centre is both an aesthetic crime and a planning one.

One year ago a group of Ottawa's most successful businessmen stepped forward with a proposal to resurrect Lansdowne, a proposal that would not only save Lansdowne from becoming a major public safety concern -- the place is truly falling apart -- but would transform the entire city in precisely the ways urban planners demand.

A resurrected Lansdowne would have more people living, working and playing in the urban core. The site would be a model of "smart growth" -- walkable spaces, recreational facilities, mixed-use development (retail, office, residential).

The national capital region has long been crippled by expensive, inefficient sprawl. But if you want a symbol of Ottawa's sprawl, don't just look at McMansions in the 'burbs. Look at today's Lansdowne Park, and consider the message it has been sending all these years. This crumbling, under-used expanse of real estate along the Rideau Canal diminishes the value of city living.

The Lansdowne Live team, as the developers call themselves, have a plan that would bring people into the city rather than drive them out. Yet the forces of inertia, and defenders of the status quo, seem determined to prevent this from happening. The Lansdowne Live developers are, understandably, increasingly frustrated, and they will not wait around forever for city officials to overcome their usual paralysis and embrace a new vision.

It can't be easy being an entrepreneur in a government town. The civic culture in Ottawa is conservative and hyper-cautious. Because so many of us are public sector workers, who by temperament are more preoccupied with process than product, we can be suspicious of businesspeople who not only have big ideas but actually want to implement them. The fact that the Lansdowne developers stand to profit in the long term from a reborn park is almost considered a strike against them.

Taxpayers of course have a right to insist that financial partnerships with the private sector are transparent and in the interest of the city. Indeed the exact numbers regarding Lansdowne Live have been the subject of a healthy debate. Currently the city is spending -- or, more accurately, wasting -- millions of dollars per year just to maintain the sinkhole at Lansdowne. Will that same expenditure cover a mortgage to restore the stadium, which is what the Lansdowne Live team is asking the city to do? If not, how much more will it cost taxpayers to get the stadium up and running, so that the developers can do the rest?

While these are legitimate questions, it's unproductive to challenge the bona fides or good faith of the Lansdowne Live crew. The group has deep roots in Ottawa, going back generations, and their desire to fix the monstrosity that is today's Lansdowne Park is just the latest expression of community leadership.

The city should embrace their efforts, not obstruct them.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Anonymous said...

We have to face the facts a stadiums or arena won't happen.To many are aginst public money going to these projects.IN fact to mahy are aginst any sports at all in ottawa.They want landsdown to be a green space where everyone can go and watch flowers grow.

Sportsdump said...

Another award winning worthy blog Out Of Left Field! All parties must come to terms with the new stadium in which it must be on a grand scale and not diddle them by promoting a rediculous marketing ploy of Large Venue Entertainment Complex then seeing the finished product with only an additional 1500 seats from the old place. One city that did that telling their sports and entertainment fans it will be bigger (than the current arena) while telling the arts community and local residential property owners it won't be that big - I don't know what pisses me off more: politicians or people who argue on the internet... you just want to squeeze them all together in hopes of making one good one.

At one time I was in full support of building new arenas and stadiums "downtown" where the restaurants and related businesses could prosper from the number of people visiting their new neighbour. That has proven to be the complete opposite in Kingston; ask any Frontenacs hockey fan and they will tell you they go to the game and get out of the downtown (with their money) as fast as they can and spend it at the restaurants and fast food places across the causeway on Highway 15, north Division Street by the 401, out Gardiners Road and further west. Plus the municipal government of any city can justify massive tax hikes to those businesses who are expecting the music and sports fans to come before and after the events.

I'm all about historical value and a professional sports team should be a key local attraction for that city. But reality dictates putting any new stadium or arena where the population is growing; planting it another corn field (much like the vision 1000 Palladium Drive) for one would be close to the newer subdivisions where those residents have more disposable income than downtown college and university students.

Over the years at Lansdown I've enjoyed many CFL games and under the stars watching a memorable Supertramp concert. I fully believe a new state of the art facility away from "downtown" can co-exist without putting Lansdown on life support; pouring new money into something old is only a temporary fix and guaranteed more money will be needed (think of fixing a leaky roof - patch it up or build a new one). People who feel a resurrected Lansdowne would have more people living, working and playing in the urban core have not witnessed the success of the new rink in Riverside (far east end of Windsor) away from the urban core or the downside of newer rinks in the urban cores of Oshawa, Kingston, Sarnia and Peterborough; it's just not happening no matter how much is spent on the coolest looking scoreboards or offering half-priced sno-cones.


Anonymous said...

Cyril Leeder, representing Team Melnyk did not do a good job presenting his case before city council yesterday. His presentation was unenthusiastic. Perhaps the reason was that he was already admitting defeat.Roger Greenberg's, although not perfect, was a lot better.
The mayor has a posting on his web site which says he is throwing his support behind LansdowneLive.It looks like either the city reaches an agreement with this group, or nothing will be done for many, many years.