Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) has made a pitch to expand its role at Lansdowne and take over the city-run urban park, but the local councillor fears public space will be commercialized if that happens.
OSEG already runs TD Place stadium and arena, owns the three sports teams housed there, and manages commercial leases at Lansdowne.
But in a report released Friday, the city manager now endorses handing over the operation of the urban park, too.
That would include taking over the job of booking events for the Aberdeen Pavilion, the Horticulture Building, the Great Lawn and the outdoor plaza, where the Ottawa Farmers' Market is held — a job currently done by city parks staff.
"[OSEG] believes this will help enhance the Lansdowne community and visitor experience as a regional gathering place and sports and entertainment venue, and help to increase the annual attendance on the site from 4 million to approximately 5 million," staff write of the proposal, which they received Sept. 24.
The public would do well by having a single contact for Lansdowne, staff add, noting that OSEG promises to keep commitments to community programming.
They recommend council allow the general manager of facilities, Dan Chenier, to hold public consultations and start negotiating with OSEG. One goal would be to eliminate operational expenses to free up money to repair the Aberdeen Pavilion.
OSEG said it would not comment until Nov. 5, when its proposal goes before the finance and economic development committee.
Menard fears commercialization
The councillor for the area, Shawn Menard, is wary.
"Lansdowne is a tremendous public asset, and yet the city seems eager to turn it all over to a private entity, whose primary objective is to make profit, with little public oversight or scrutiny," Menard said in a statement.
No business plan has been presented, Menard wrote, and no consultation has taken place. If council were to transfer operations to OSEG, it would be a "a commercialization of the remaining public space at Lansdowne," he added.
Menard doesn't even think there's been an issue coordinating events between the two parts of Lansdowne.
From from January 2018 to March 2019, Lansdowne held 98 free events — including movie nights and a pumpkin derby — which drew 28,000 people. The city also made $425,000 by renting space for private events.
Last spring, OSEG officials promised city hall they would come up with ideas for making Lansdowne a draw beyond Ottawa Redblacks or Ottawa 67's game days.
For instance, Lansdowne will host a European-style Christmas market at the outdoor plaza this holiday season, and the plaza will get a new stage for performances and big-screen gatherings.
OSEG had raised expensive ideas like rebuilding the north-side stands at TD Place or talking with the National Capital Commission about opening up Lansdowne to better face the Rideau Canal, but any major capital projects appear to be a discussion for a later date.
The staff report also gives a snapshot of the financial status of the Lansdowne partnership. It posted net loss of $12.7 million from January 2018 to March 2019.
It's difficult to compare those results to the $7.9 million net loss of 2017 — the year TD Place hosted the Grey Cup — because the latest figures reflect a change in OSEG's fiscal calendar.
Staff suggest revenues from its partnership with OSEG have grown by $2 million year over year, when the Grey Cup boost is set aside. The retail area is 98 per cent leased.
The community associations for the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and Old Ottawa East are holding a public meeting at the Horticulture Building on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in order to discuss OSEG's proposal.