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Presentation to City of Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park Design Symposium

Presentation to City of Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park Design Symposium on behalf of Heritage Ottawa by David B. Flemming, Thurs., Feb.25, 2010 at 1130 hrs.
 
Heritage Ottawa is pleased to have an opportunity to comment on the proposed development of Lansdowne Park and to make suggestions to the five finalists in the design competition. It is unfortunate that you cannot apply your design talents to the entire Park however we in Ottawa did not seem to have the foresight to develop a rational design process for this most important heritage site.
 
Heritage Ottawa consistently supported a transparent procurement process and open international competition for the design of the entire Park however in the interest of trying to achieve the best development proposal, we offer these suggestions.  
 
Heritage Ottawa’s focus is on the impact of any proposed development on the heritage buildings located on the site - the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building - and how they can be best used as a centre-piece for development.
 
The area bounded by Bank Street, the Glebe and the Rideau Canal was purchased in 1868 to hold agricultural exhibitions. In 1888 the City purchased the land to become the home of the Central Canada Exhibition. Its 140-year history as a centre for agricultural shows, fairs, sporting, political, military and patriotic events, public recreation, entertainment and a farmers’ market, should guide any development plans for the Park. The adjacent Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a designation that can be removed if the site and its value and character are diminished by any unsuitable adjacent developments.
 
The image of the Aberdeen Pavilion, a municipal heritage building (1984) and National Historic Site (1983) was adopted by Heritage Ottawa as its logo - the graphic in the centre that depicts the silhouette of turrets, domes and the grand sweeping expanse of the structure affectionately known as the “Cattle Castle”. The building’s 41 m clear span steel frame is nationally significant and the building represents the last surviving 19th century large-scale exhibition building in Canada.
 
It is also symbolic of the decade-long struggle which led to its retention and restoration in 1994. The fight to save the Aberdeen Pavilion involved over 30 votes at Ottawa City and Regional Council before the final and correct decision was made to retain and preserve it. Heritage Ottawa volunteers were in the forefront of this significant heritage preservation decision. The building is protected by a 1994 federal (Parks Canada) - municipal cost-sharing agreement which requires the City to retain the building in its restored condition without significant modification for a period of 42 years. The Pavilion is also protected by an easement with the Ontario Heritage Trust, which in perpetuity preserves the heritage attributes of the building and its features.
 
The 1914 Horticulture Building has also been afforded protection under the Ontario Heritage Act and its importance to the City was also debated extensively by Councils in the late 80’s and early 90’s, culminating in the designation of the entire structure in 1994. This rare public commission by Ottawa architect Francis Sullivan is an important example of a Canadian adaptation of the American Prairie style of architecture examples of which are evident in its exterior and interior design and detailing. For over 70 years the Horticulture Building served as an exhibition facility in summer and a curling club during the winter. Although the City has allowed it to fall into disrepair, a recent tour of the building organized by Heritage Ottawa which included three restoration architects indicated that most of the building’s original fabric is intact and that it could easily be restored to its original configuration for an appropriate adaptive use.
 
The City and the design consultants should consider having Historic Ottawa Development Inc. (HODI) contribute to the preparation of a business plan based on sound economic and heritage conservation models for the Horticulture Building in the same manner that they did in 1994 for the Aberdeen Pavilion.

We feel the preservation of these two buildings in situ must be a fundamental component of any development plan for both the Urban Park and the commercial area and we strongly oppose any proposal which would result in the demolition of all or any original components of either of these buildings or their relocation to other areas in the Park.
 
Our deepest wish and that of many Ottawa citizens, is that the intrinsic natural and historic value of Lansdowne Park should anchor its future. Its commercial value should be sustained – as in so many wonderful history-based developments in Ontario, across Canada and in tourist magnets of Europe such as Paris, Copenhagen, Rome and London – by the fascination, charm, and capriciousness of its history.
 
Although Heritage Ottawa has not taken a position on any particular plan for the development of the commercial/retail component, we believe that its design and development should be compatible with the natural and cultural resources that exist on the site and adjacent to it. The non-commercial component should provide opportunities for the public to participate in various recreational activities such as: skating and boating on the Rideau Canal, cycling, walking, running, in-line skating, cross-country skiing, formal and informal team sports, picnicking and playground activities. It should provide a venue for the exhibition of public art as well as cultural activities relating to the performing arts and music. It could become the focal point for some of Ottawa’s successful festivals.
 
The Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building could house a year-round carnival or farmers market, in keeping with the Park’s traditional use. These would respect the attributes of the historical designation for both buildings by using the open interior spaces to their fullest advantage.  Either building could also house exhibits relating to Ottawa’s civic history and serve as a venue for a variety of events by local community organizations.   
 
Commercial enterprises should be in keeping with the activities noted above and should reflect the Park’s traditional use. Rentals of sporting equipment, specialized shops and food services would provide on-site support for recreational and cultural activities.
 
Although many features of the original Ottawa Sport and Entertainment Group proposal are in keeping with the values noted above, it appears that the proponent’s original vision for the site is mainly commercial and if allowed to overwhelm the site, we fear that Lansdowne Park’s traditional role as a “park” will either be lost entirely or much-diminished. We do not oppose the introduction of a modicum of commercial and residential components as long as it enhances rather than detracts from the intrinsic nature of the Park as a recreational and heritage destination for citizens of Ottawa and for visitors to our City.
 
We are convinced that the best sustainable use of the site is one that recognizes the aesthetic values of its heritage elements and natural features - the green spaces, buildings and the adjacent canal - and uses them to leverage and attract appropriate commercial opportunities. For these reasons, a proper design for the Urban Park (“Front Lawn”) is important in realizing this goal.
 
We wish you well in the development of your designs. Thank you for your attention.