Happy New Year to one and all.
We have no news from the Ontario Court of Appeal about our legal challenge, but we expect that a decision will come out in January. We are hopeful that the merits of our case will carry the day. If so, the current sole-sourced arrangement that the City has made with developers to privatize the site will be quashed and the City will have to go back to an open, fair and transparent process. If not, we will need to keep working to stop or improve this costly and ill-conceived Lansdowne plan. The Lansdowne Partnership Plan has still not received final heritage, environmental or site plan approvals nor has the final agreement with OSEG been signed; so there is lots of opportunity for work on a number of fronts.
Near the end of 2011, there were a few developments that relate to the Lansdowne Partnership Plan.
Residential Air Rights
The City announced that Minto had been selected to develop the residential portions of the project (two high-rise condo towers along Bank Street and townhouses along Holmwood). Minto happens to be owned by Roger Greenberg, one of the partners of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), the City's private sector partner in the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. The City says that the procurement process was rigorous and fair, but it is hard to avoid the perception that Minto had an advantage over other bidders. A report on the process will be coming to City Council in January and it will be important to review this carefully.
We are eager to see how much money the City will actually get for selling the 'air rights' for parts of Lansdowne Park. Although the land technically remains in public ownership, once high-rise towers are built and condos are sold to private owners, there is no likelihood of this land ever being returned to public use.
Office Air Rights
The City failed to attract an acceptable bidder for the proposed office tower at Lansdowne Park and was going to ask would-be bidders to re-submit. It's hard to be confident that the City and OSEG's plans and cost projections for Lansdowne are feasible when they fail to attract compliant bidders for a commercial development on such a prime site. If this component of the mixed-use project isn't working out, what does that mean for the whole plan?
It's not too late for the City to take a good hard look at the financial assumptions for this project. We note that Council has not yet addressed the $62 million dollar discrepancy that Friends of Lansdowne found in earlier financial formula documents. More importantly, if the City is putting $172 million in equity into this project, why did they agree to a formula that only recognizes less than $5 million of equity?
CE Centre--Lansdowne Links
You may have heard about a successful Deadmou5 concert at a new centre out near the airport, but did you connect it to Lansdowne Park? Probably not, but the two projects are inextricably linked.
The new CE Centre was built to house trade shows and events that are being displaced from Lansdowne Park by the proposed development. So from now on, events such as craft fairs and home shows will be out at the CE centre. The City spent $8.5 million of taxpayers money on the new CE Centre by the airport as a direct cost related to implementing the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. The City has also given up over $1 million a year in revenue from trade shows at Lansdowne with this change.
Coincidentally, the developers of the CE Centre happen to be the Shenkman Group, owned by William Shenkman, one of the partners of OSEG. The Shenkman Group won the project after a call for proposals from the City, when no other group bid.
Looking Forward to 2012
January 2012 marks four years since the City began public consultations on "Design Lansdowne", the proposed design competition for the park that that the City later abandoned. Imagine where we would be if the City had gone ahead with the competition, instead of going with this sole-sourced deal negotiated behind closed doors.
In the coming weeks we should have both the decision on our legal appeal and a report to city council on the proposed sale of air rights for residential and office development at Lansdowne Park.
This spring, the City will have to present and approve a site plan for the mixed-use portion of the project, a plan for the public park portion, and an overall master plan for the site. Neither Council nor the public has yet seen a realistic visual presentation of what the entire redeveloped Lansdowne Park is supposed to look like. Would it be too much to ask for the City to actually create a model of what Lansdowne Park with all the new buildings to scale and in the context of its surroundings?
If the final Lansdowne site plan is like the current plan and shows buildings which block views of the Aberdeen Pavilion National Historic Site, then another approval step will be necessary. The Ontario Heritage Trust will have to OK the plans. The Ontario Heritage Trust is a provincial legal stakeholder so this heritage issue is not something that can just be tossed aside like the Horticulture Building heritage designation was.
The final site plan will also have to conform to the terms of the Ontario Municipal Board; if not the community groups which signed terms of settlement with the City could reopen the file at the OMB.
The City still also has to get approval from the Ministry of the Environment on its plans for treating contaminated soils. The City has promised another public meeting on environmental issues. There may also be another meeting on the traffic and parking issues as the City has not yet answered public questions about how day-to-day traffic, parking and service deliveries will be handled.
Over the coming months, the City has to negotiate the final financial agreement with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, and determine the final costs to the taxpayer. At this point our best estimate is that the total cost to the taxpayer is $400 million, with no return on investment for at least 30 years--other than a guarantee of having a football team for 5 years.
The City also has to determine the governance of Lansdowne Park possibly through the creation of a Municipal Services Board.
After all these issues are resolved, then the City will have to sign a final agreement with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. Remember, at this point--even though the City is spending millions of taxpayers dollars on the project--there is no final agreement between the City and OSEG for the Lansdowne Partnership Plan.
Havana Night II
Mark your calendars for Saturday, January 28 for the Old Ottawa South Community Association's Havana Night II. Proceeds from this event featuring Cuban music, dancing, food and mojitos at the Old Fire Hall (260 Sunnyside Avenue) will benefit the Friends of Lansdowne. Last year the event sold out, so get your $40 tickets early. Find out more at www.oldoottawasouth.ca.
New Year's Resolution
Our resolve for 2012 is to continue to stand up for the public good when it comes to Lansdowne Park. We will continue our fight to have Lansdowne revitalized in a fair, open and transparent way and for the benefit of the public, not for private profit. We take heart from Time Magazine naming "the protestor" as person of the year and we know that it is only by being engaged and involved that we can change our city for the better.
Let's hope that 2012 is a turning point in the future of Lansdowne Park and that we set a new course to make it the great public space we want it to be.
Let's get it Right!