Friends of Lansdowne has long opposed the Lansdowne Partnership Plan. I know that most of you do not share our views.
I also know that many of you will tend to disregard my remarks because the Friends of Lansdowne legal case was not successful. But remember, the Courts did not rule that the Lansdowne Partnership Plan made financial sense, or that it was in the public interest. All the court ruled was that the City did not break the law.
So it is legal for you to approve this project. But is it smart for you to do so?
What I’m here to say is that even if you want a new stadium and to redevelop Lansdowne Park, this is a very bad deal for the City of Ottawa. I also want to remind you that this deal will be in effect for a very long time—up to 70 years. So the decision you make will have an impact that lasts beyond your lifetime and you should consider it carefully. In fact, we think you should reconsider the plan altogether.
Given that I only have 5 minutes, I will mention 3 points:
1. The Costs to Taxpayers
This is a very expensive project for taxpayers. It is going to cost well over the $200 million by the time all the real costs are factored in. There are going to be more consulting costs, transportation improvement costs, environmental clean-up costs, security costs, community protection costs than are listed in the reports.
If you had the money in the bank, that would be one thing. But you don’t, so you will be paying debt servicing charges. In fact, the City will be paying over $8 million a year for 40 years to subsidize two professional sports teams in a deal that provides a 30 year stadium lease for $1/year. Interestingly the Ottawa Senators paid for their own arena. Couldn’t your constituents use that money now and in the future.
Also, the City is throwing in 10 acres of land—land that would likely be worth over $100 million now that it has been rezoned for high-rise commercial use and should have been open to competitive bids if it’s privatized.. It is highly unlikely that the City will ever get a financial return on this land equity—or will it ever get any PUBLIC use out of it again. What is the City going to do in 50 years when it gets the land and buildings back—tear down private condos, offices and stores? The City would be better to sell the land and earn some cold hard cash. It would still get the same tax revenues.
2. The Likelihood of Failure
Two years ago, both the City and OSEG said that they needed 65 to 70% of the retail leased before proceeding in order to ensure success. But here we are in 2012 and only 25% of the retail is leased. We’ve had five years of promises from the developers, but they haven’t delivered.
With retail expansions all over Ottawa these days, there simply isn’t a need for more retail at Lansdowne. There are already empty storefronts in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South.
It is also important to note that OSEG has not been able to attract the unique retailers it promised. So far, it has only one unique retailer. All the feasibility studies said that retail could only succeed if it was a unique urban shopping destination.
So the retail is likely to fail. The office tower project also failed to attract competitive bids. Not very much has worked out as predicted by OSEG.
But even if OSEG manages to attract some retailers and office tenants, Lansdowne is likely to fail because of transportation and parking. There is no access by rapid transit and there is almost no parking for sports fans. Did you know that it is 8000 parking spaces short of what it would require by normal zoning requirements. It will have only half the parking it has now…even though the site will have over 350,000 sq. ft. of retail, an urban park that is supposed to serve thousands from all over the City, an arena and a 25,000 seat stadium. There are less than 1400 parking spotson the whole site for all of these uses.
It is going to be a traffic nightmare and Lansdowne is going to end up being a white elephant.
3. Questions of Transparency
There have been many questions about the transparency of the Lansdowne deal and the City’s relationship with OSEG. It was not subject to normal procurement or planning processes. Everything has been ‘special’ or shall I say ‘unorthodox” for Lansdowne.
I won’t go over old ground—even though what has transpired is truly shameful. If there had been an Integrity Commissioner, code of conduct or lobbyist registration system a few years ago, it is unlikely this project would have proceeded this way.
But let’s just talk about what is happening right now. You have all received hundreds of pages of complex documents with only a week’s time to review them. Do you know what is in them and what you are being asked to approve. Could you honestly explain the waterfall to a resident in your area and tell him/her how much taxpayers will receive for the land, what date the payment will be made and why it may never be paid if the optimistic revenue projections don’t work out? , Or even tell them what is going to be on the site. Do you know how high the condo towers are or that there are roadways cutting through Lansdowne so it is not a pedestrian precinct.
Why does there need to be an exemption to the City’s signage laws? Why is the City of Ottawa registering its stadium partnership in Manitoba?
The City has failed to give the public adequate information in understandable formats and it has failed to give enough time for careful review of this mass of detailed legal documentation.
There are just too many things that are ‘off’ with this project for anyone to feel comfortable with it.
Those of us who live nearby strongly welcomed the City’s initial plans to redevelop Lansdowne and participated actively in the City’s consultations. However, the backroom decision to sole source this project and build a shopping mall subsidized by taxpayers in the form of $1/a year for public land regrettably led to city-wide opposition. We do not believe this project is in the best interests of the taxpayers.
Friends of Lansdowne has over 8000 supporters from every corner of the city. We hope you will defer or cancel the project. If you decide to go ahead, at the very least you should demand a better financial deal where taxpayers are paid up front for the value of the land. We call on you also to set up a rigorous audit and evaluation program to ensure public interests are protected over the long term.
Lansdowne has already become synonymous with bad city planning. If you want to redeem the reputation of this troubled project, then demand a better deal for citizens—now and in the future.