Opinion: Lansdowne is a key city-building project

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What better topic to kick off Spacing Ottawa than with Lansdowne Park? It has attracted a great deal of controversy and misinformation, but in looking at the future of this important municipal asset, I have sought to steer clear of the rhetoric and asked myself a few basic questions about what the city ought to consider as it ponders Lansdowne’s future. The answers I give here are my own, as a citizen of Ottawa and one who is ambitious about the evolution of this city.

What should Ottawa seek to achieve at Lansdowne?

Lansdowne was never intended as a park in the strict sense of the word. It has always been, and should continue to be, a magnet for people and a place of intense activity revolving around sports and commerce.

The beloved Aberdeen Pavilion witnessed Ottawa’s early Stanley Cup victories and Frank Clair Stadium was, for decades, the site of football triumphs and agonies, from the Riders to the Panda games and the short-lived but fun Bootleggers. The Central Canada Exhibition was, and has remained, the city’s main venue for entertainment and agricultural fairs. The Civic Centre witnessed Memorial Cups and the rebirth of the NHL. Big-name concerts have played both the arena and stadium. I personally saw dozens of concerts there, from U2 to Pink Floyd. Pierre Trudeau won the Liberal leadership at Lansdowne and his retirement was fêted there too. Exhibitions, from Christmas shows to toy and clothing sales and the controversial Arm-X weapons shows, have also been mainstays. The place is impregnated with local and national history.

So, Lansdowne is a legitimate activity hub. So it should continue to be. Having such a place in the core of the city is all the more relevant to us after our experience with the Senators playing in Kanata. Scotiabank Place has actually deprived downtown of other big shows, which now mostly bypass Lansdowne in favour of Kanata.

How to requalify Lansdowne in its rightful and established functions is the relevant question. Those (mostly Glebe residents) who would see Lansdowne’s redevelopment as an opportunity to get rid of the stadium are displaying a profound selfishness. If you don’t like to live near a stadium, then the Glebe isn’t for you. Ottawa has plenty of downtown neighbourhoods that don’t have stadiums. It’s as ridiculous as Sandy Hill residents asking for the University of Ottawa to be moved so they can enjoy peace and quiet without students and their parties. In all central neighbourhoods, there are trade-offs. You take the good and the bad, and the word “bad” is used loosely here, in exchange for the privilege of a convenient residential location. That’s life in a big city.

Lansdowne’s components

Sports. Having a downtown stadium and hockey arena are essential pieces of our capital city. Getting back into the Canadian Football League, and playing for the Grey Cup (a trophy which was born in Ottawa), are legitimate claims our city has to participating in the nation’s sporting life. Adding pro soccer is a way to bring the facility into its time. Major junior hockey, better priced for families than the NHL, is hugely popular in this city. Being able to host international events, tournaments and games is also something a city our size and stature should aspire to. The stadium and Civic Centre, in short, must be renovated. For all the righteous indignation about the costs of renovating these facilities, I ask myself where was the outrage at their advancing decay over the years.

Link to rural roots. The agricultural fairs of yesteryear are long gone, but today there is appetite and real potential for a more urban version of this link to rurality: the farmers’ market. Installing one in the Aberdeen Pavilion, modelled after the hugely successful Atwater and St. Lawrence market (in Montreal and Toronto respectively), would be a natural evolution for Lansdowne. In the 21st century city, every neighbourhood should have a market. Lansdowne can be the Glebe’s. Reusing a cherished heritage structure to house it will only strengthen its appeal.

Will it attract “traffic” from other neighbourhoods? Of course it will. The thrill of living in a big city is variety. Being able to choose from several markets would be a pleasure for everyone, and a chance to see other parts of town. This same “traffic” will also explore the rest of the Glebe and likely shop there too.

Commerce and public space. The original Central Canada Exhibition was about selling farm goods. Today’s SuperEx has morphed into an outlet mall appended to an amusement fair. The various trade shows, from the Spring and Fall Home Shows, the Christmas Craft Show, and dozens more, are also commercial initiatives. What is sometimes missed in the heat of debate is that markets are very much public spaces. The way they are designed matters enormously in how these spaces function and integrate into their surroundings. So far, Lansdowne has functioned as an isolated site without any meaningful links or attempted integration into the Glebe. Now is the time to rectify this.

The question in my mind is, should Lansdowne continue to host seasonal and temporary comnmercial trade shows, or should it become a more established place of commerce? Neither option precludes the design of Lansdowne as good public space. Indeed, if regular retail were the chosen way, there is genuine opportunity to weave the edges of this enormous property into its neighbourhood by extending the pieces of it that people appreciate, the traditional mainstreet (Bank) being the most obvious. Having a large quantity of retailers with doors on sidewalks actually prolongs the Glebe’s mainstreet with the same urban design language as its historic parts. On the other hand, large exhibition halls are likely to have large expanses of blank wall and limited entry points. They are much more difficult to design as good public spaces, and doing that would almost certainly involve small retail outlets opening up to the outside.

I look at the Rideau Centre and assume, optimistically, that we would never build it like that again today. It is a monstrosity of a box, selfish to the outside, ugly and self-absorbed. Despite this, it not only failed to kill the Byward Market, it vaulted it to the top of the food chain among Ottawa’s retail districts. Ask any merchant in the Market if they’d like to see the Rideau Centre closed. At Lansdowne, the effect of new retail will be much better if the retail is deployed as door-on-street shops along Bank and some new streets, some pedestrianized, leading to the Aberdeen Pavilion. These new streets and the extension of the Bank mainstreet can truly become successful public spaces. What is more public than people attending to their household needs, on foot, mingling informally with one another? People who harbour repugnance toward “commerce” as an impure form of public space need to answer the question: where else will you fulfill your household needs? Most likely, the answer will include a car trip to a suburban big-box power centre. And here is the big picture of it all: we have to reconquer the commercial function of the city as the generator of good public spaces. Lansdowne can do that, and it is a legitimate place in which to do it.

Will more stores cause “traffic”? Certainly. Again, redeveloping such a big site with pedestrian space on the surface and underground parking is a change for the better. People who drive will get there, like they get to the much more congested Rideau Centre area, and likely park underground if they know they are spending half a day, or surf for a metered parking spot if they are bolting in and out. More congestion only means slower traffic and, therefore, safer streets. That is the reality in the Byward Market. The Glebe now qualifies for this. It is a real improvement. Besides, the fear of cars assumes that everyone will drive. Everyone won’t. Even shopping malls like Billings Bridge or St. Laurent have over 25% of their clientele arriving by transit. The Glebe is a walkable destination. Many will walk or bike to it. More frequent bus service, however, will be needed.

Parks and green space. There has been little of that at Lansdowne for many decades. Adding this component will be a plus. But, as all urban amenities, parks and open space have to be sized and designed properly for the function they are intended to fulfill. Lansdowne belongs to the whole city. It cannot be a local park. It borders the Rideau Canal, which is now a world-recognized heritage site. Its green portion should be active, open to all, metropolitan in scope and programming, and active. Concerts, festivals and big events should find a home here. There is no such thing as a “minimum size” for this type of city-wide park, it just has to look and feel right for what it’s meant to be. The fact that it is in an old and dense part of town means that it will be more compact, and this is good: compact space is better at bringing people together. The logical place for park space at Lansdowne is next to the canal, to link with the pathways and to not overstep the logical place of commerce and sports, which are already next to Bank Street. Having a water inlet from the canal into this park space, as some have proposed, would be beautiful. The site’s overall density of activity, with sports, a market and other commerce abutting the park, would feed people into the park by virtue of closeness. However, having all of Lansdowne as just a park would produce a very large open space that would be almost impossible to fill with people on a regular basis, and therefore it would be dead.

Amusement park. The SuperEx is also a vital component of Ottawa, a real summertime ritual. Losing it to the suburbs (Albion Road or wherever else) will be tragic. Cities like Toronto have amusement parks like Centre Island that function all summer long, and ideally Lansdowne should seek to keep that function and integrate it into its green space. But these types of amusement parks take up more space than will be left if other components are allowed to evolve with more space of their own. So, if we lose the Ex, we should find another urban site for it. The green space between Carling and Dow’s Lake, west of Preston, is one example of a location that should be tested for this purpose.

Process

Was “Landowne Live” the ideal way to go about redeveloping Lansdowne? No. Is it a legitimate and legal process? Yes. Is the process reason enough to discard the opportunity before us? Certainly not.

In this process-obsessed city, much has been said about the “sole-sourcing” of the Lansdowne redevelopment. This is technically inaccurate. It has to be remembered that the city chose between Lansdowne and Kanata and had its own study of potential stadium sites. Lansdowne Live, it is fair to say, was an unsolicited proposal, but it is not a sole-source deal. Construction contracts for the stadium will be tendered. The partnership itself is a conglomerate of companies each with their own interests and spheres of activity. There have been other non-solicited proposals, like Plasco’s to turn household waste into energy, that could also have been termed “sole-source” but somehow there hasn’t been a flicker of controversy about those. So, the “sole-source” argument is a mere front for the opposition and sidesteps the real issues.

The ideal process would have been to look after this asset long ago. In fact, in the days of Jim Watson, after the original Rough Riders folded, there was a proposal to have an international design competition, and Glebe residents would have nothing of it. They pushed for Frank Clair Stadium to be demolished, and had the Regional government not stepped in to buy it, today we would have condos at Lansdowne.

The process we have today is a result of our own civic disengagement toward Lansdowne. The real crunch time arrived when the south stand lower deck had to be demolished after being found structurally unsafe. Today we have an asset in structural jeopardy and an opportunity to fix it. I suspect that those who persist in wanting to stop everything and start a whole new design competition don’t have the stadium’s best interests in mind. And this distorts the debate. The bottom line is: what will Ottawa be left with?

Design is vitally important. The City can and must exercise its power to obtain the right design. The stadium must be redesigned to be a true urban stadium. Retail must be designed as if it were the Byward Market. Green space must be designed to be urban and active. Other functions that may be added, like a hotel, or office space or residences, must also be designed in an urban way to fit into and strengthen the Glebe.

There should be more people at Lansdowne. There should be more action. As a city we should rejoice about any plan that accomplishes this. When you sweep aside all the cobwebs of the rhetoric and entrenched positions, we as a city should want Lansdowne to be a public space and people place designed around sports, markets, commerce, and green space. And that, in my view, is what would really make this redevelopment as a marker of our civic maturity.

– Alain Miguelez is an Ottawa urban planner

photo credit Rob Huntley

13 comments

  1. This article avoids the anti-Glebe bias of many commentators, but only barely. I live in the Glebe and have no problem with the stadium or football. It is the rest of the site plan that is the problem. It is so rare to get a chance to design a public site of this size post-urbanisation.

    The site is big enough for a world landmark like the Sydney Opera House. It is next to a world heritage site. It is located in a capital city with NCC and provincial support. It is next to a world heritage site. Greening the parking lot, whether on part or all of the site, is not using it to its full potential.

    The problem with the process is not the process, per se, but that a multiplex cinema is the best this process can provide for vision. Pit a Famous Players against the Sydney Opera House and you begin to see why Lansdowne Live is such a waste of an opportunity, even in the context of a renewed stadium.

    100 years ago they built Aberdeen Pavillion, a building that has served its original purpose admirably even up to the present day. This was our chance to build something worth visiting for the next 100 years. Sadly, I think we will have trouble getting people outside a 10 km radius to visit it, let alone people from 10 countries.

  2. Some interesting comments from Alain Miquelez, but claiming that sports was the original designation of Lansdowne Park is of course incorrect.

    The Land (70%) was donated to the City of Ottawa in and around 1888 by the Royal Ottawa Horticultural Society. It’s original intent was in fact for Exhibitions of Rural and Artistic shows, in other words agriculture and the arts.The stadium as we know it has been there for just over 40 years and was named Frank Clair in 1993 (Frank Clair died in 1983 if I recall correctly).

    It is a public space for sure but a stadium no longer makes sense there and that an urban designer supports keeping it there when there is a much better alternative is surprising.

    The Bayview site on the Ottawa river and a Rapid Transit Hub was in fact the number one choice by the City of Ottawa Stadium Location Study, Frank Clair ranked 6th, Kanata 7th.

    Successful moves have been made for teams all the time with such notable examples as the Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leafs, and in the CFL most recently Montreal Alouettes to Molson Stadium and now the Bombers in Winnipeg.

    It makes sense for the CFL to continue to train at Frank Clair field to attract tourism. The Hockey 67’s make sense and money as do the underground trade shows. But the stadium needs to be respectfully disassembled and given rebirth at a much more affordable price under an open competition at the CIty of Ottwa’s number one stadium location, The Bayview Yards, adjacent to LeBreton and right across the river from the Gatineau fans and central on rapid transit to all Ottawa Fans.

    Working parks make money for cities and draw interest year round and do not leave vast areas empty for the majority of the year.

    Those interested in an alternate idea can go to http://www.vo-ao.ca to see illustrations and powerpoint presentation.

    As for Mr. Miquelez’s comments on the legality of the process at Lansdowne it is of course incorrect.

    The matter is currently before the courts and only a judge can pronounce legality of illegality.

    That decision is pending and it will be heard sometime late next year.

    For more information please feel free to contact me at jemartin@vo-ao.ca

  3. Thanks Alain. I have high hopes for the Hume/Dark design advisory board. What are your thoughts?

  4. Here, here. Good post, its nice to see a constructive and common sense opinion of the future of Landsdowne, instead of the incessant pissing match between glebe nimby’s, corporate interests and those idiots at city hall.

  5. This is an interesting article that certainly puts forward good arguments about the need to revitalize the stadium, but it misses the mark in other areas. First, many people who live outside the Glebe are genuinely concerned about the loss of public space that is at the core of the LPP proposal. Second, the cost of developing the stadium and arena should by transparent since the people of Ottawa will be paying the bill. The current proposal hides the cost to the extent that it requires hours of study and analysis to see how tax dollars will be flowing from commercial development to a private sports franchise, rather than from commercial development to the services needed to support that development. Third, Lansdowne Park has always included community sports. We don’t know yet if community teams will be paying a little more or a lot more to use a new arena and football/soccer/whatever field. We only know that professional teams pay nothing. Fourth, even if we think that commercial development is OK then we should sort out the public space and programming issues first so we ensure tha that the commercial requirements don’t impinge on the efficiency and cost of public spaces. Fifth, successful public spaces and urban design needs to address host communities which are the true partners in urban design. Sixth, Lansdowne Park has also been an important space for civic events that don’t fit well into the usual sports-exhibition nomenclature. These activities, such as Trivia Night, religious celebrations and even large community meetings, don’t have a place in the LPP. While they might find room in the arena complex, we don’t know whether the cost will be prohibitive. We need to set a target for those public uses in order to understand and evaluate the LPP.

  6. I think Alain’s article is very insightful. Ultimately, everyone will have their own ideas about what is best for the site which will inevitably be influenced by their personal biases. Personally I have no interest in parks, flower and gardens. Bluntly, I find these things boring and have no use for them. Therefore the proposal on the website quoted above does not cater to my needs at all.

    I do have a great interest in professional sport (hockey, CFL), a farmer’s market, shops, cafes, and bringing more people downtown by providing more high-density housing opportunities. Ottawa could be a much more vibrant City with more people living downtown, particularly people in their 20s and 30s. I can’t wait to see the impact of new condo development near Bank Street in Centretown – I think it will be incredible to see the difference in 5-8 years.

    I am tired of people from Montreal moving to Ottawa for job opportunities and complaining that it’s boring (such as myself)! I want a City I can be proud of.

  7. To my POV, a pro sports-capable stadium somewhere in the central neighbourhoods – whether in the Glebe, Bayview/Lebreton or elsewhere in the core – makes sense if for no other reason than the further containment of urban sprawl. Since Lansdowne’s already been in place and used to that end for over half a century, the further argument of tradition of usage also comes into play.

    Any refurb plan for Lansdowne also further strengthens the argument for an LRT expansion to (be prepped to) include a Bank Street component. I spoke to several reps from OC Transpo, City Council and other parties at the Orléans Q&A session on Lansdowne, and my impression is that they’re none of them quite ready to believe the truth of this particular fact yet. Whether that Bank Street LRT component should be on the street or underground…?

    As for the mall component of the Lansdowne Live proposal, the Glebe and Old Ottawa South do still have a perfectly viable mall: Bank Street itself. If, for example, the Mayfair Theatre group were offered first crack at running the proposed multiplex, maybe that could go some ways towards defusing the concerns of the local merchants.

  8. John, you say that Frank Clair Stadium as we know it has been there for 40 years, but there has been a stadium on the site since 1909. And the Aberdeen Pavilion was also used as a skating and hockey rink, including a Stanley Cup victory by the Ottawa Silver Seven in 1904. So sports have been a key usage of the land from early on.

    http://lansdownepark.ca/history_en.html

    I also think you are taking the results of the CRG report out of context. While Bayview scored 77.5, Lansdowne scored 72 out of 95. So the difference between the two sites isn’t huge which says to me that Lansdowne is a usable site. 6% really isn’t that big a difference.

    The report also doesn’t account for business plans for stadium use – Lansdowne has multiple tenants lined up for it (CFL, pro soccer, CIS football) while your Bayview plan doesn’t have those commitments. You are just assuming that people will shift plans over to your site without actually talking to them. That isn’t a fair assumption – look at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Some tire kickers but no teams to play there.

  9. The main issue is process. Whether that process is legal or not will be decided upon in a court of law.

    If you move the stadium are you talking just trees and grass to remain at Lansdowne? Of course not. The working components will remain and ampitheatre’s, outdoor pools, athletic fields can all be allowed to flourish. Something for all citizens.

    Will the new stadium at Bayview have tenants? Of course. All the City has to do is build it. The CFL is contingent upon a stadium, not Frank Clair.

    Is new stadium construction more cost efficient for the taxpayer? Of course, plus it is eligible for tens of millions of Provincial and Federal money since it will not be sole sourced.

    Does the Engineering report that the City commissioned examine whether or not Frank Clair can be modified? No. The engineering report was not commissioned to do that but did conclude that the existing structure was unsound.

    There are two sites to accommodate the interests of all concerned that will be done for less money and greater efficiency.

    Lansdowne will be a working park with the 67’s and trade space and the arts and athletics (amateur with pro exhibition) no stadium, an outdoor pool year round and an amphitheater.

    Bayview will have all the commercial space required, on a transit hub and with a new stadium.

    But it all starts from a simple RFP.

    The City shows that two sites need development and states what it wants. Open competition will bring in the best.

    But it may take a court of law to stop the current smoke and mirrors.

  10. Just because you ask your questions does not mean you can invent answers to them. Here let me show you what I mean.

    If you move the stadium are you talking just trees and grass to remain at Lansdowne?
    Actually, if the stadium gets moved there’s nothing to say that what remains at Lansdowne won’t be a crumbling, rusting hulk of a football stadium. Or have you budgeted the massive costs of demolition and cleanup of Lansdowne into your Bayview stadium?

    Will the new stadium at Bayview have tenants?
    Without the OSEG’s backing, No. The CFL Deal was not to the City, it was to a group of businessmen, who clearly want to redevelop Lansdowne.

    Is new stadium construction more cost efficient for the taxpayer? Again, I ask if the cost of demolition and cleanup of the existing stadium site is included in your entirely hypothetical “cheaper” Bayview costs. If not, be prepared to have a crumbling field of concrete at Lansdowne for the rest of our lives.

    Does the Engineering report that the City commissioned examine whether or not Frank Clair can be modified?
    Actually, I don’t have the report in front of me, but they did examine the cost of rebuilding the demolished section of Frank Clair, and determined that rebuilding the entire stadium would be cheaper.

    See: Same questions, vastly different answers.

    If you think that Open Competition is the best answer, I invite you to come down to my neighborhood (around the corner from your proposed Bayview site, btw), and look at the shining result of a design competition run by the NCC, along much of the same lines as you’re proposing.

    Yep. It’s a big, tall, ugly Condo building.

    Also. In all your pretty drawings, I don’t see the parking lots, or massively widened roadways that will destroy existing the existing neighborhood. My neighborhood. Or did you think everyone would take the Transitway?

  11. In reply to Matt.

    Thank you for your input.

    With reference to the cost of dis-assembling Frank Clair the figure was estimated by the City at $15 Million. There is however $18 Million dollars of recoverable and re-useable stteel not to mention the saved foundation costs of pulverizing the concrete. Riveters and Welders using acetylene can essentially take the exterior steel skeleton and use it in any new design at a new site. Overall a minimal cost.

    You claim that OSEG will balk at a stadium at Bayview. Untrue, they can still have commercial development and a stadium. The requirement of the CFL is a stadium. Frank Clair is not essential. This is city land. If the partners are serious about football they will make it work at Bayview. If they aren’t interested then you know it was never about football. Projected profits for the shopping center are $35 Million for Minto at the current proposed site. Tax revenue at Bayview would be better. The world model for development is TOD, or Transit Oriented Development. The developers know this, they just want a freebie and Mayor O’Brien seems to be not just allowing it to happen but actively ignoring ethical procurement and good governance.

    New stadium construction is 30 to 40 percent cheaper than old stadium restructuring. Call any major stadium architectural firm.

    Your comments on the Engineering report in fact support my contention, that yes new stadium construction is cheaper.

    Your comment on the lack of development on the NCC is due to highly restrictive development guidelines. That is why it was recently scrapped by Minister Baird.

    The land at Bayview however is City owned. Why wouldn’t you want a design competition to stimulate the area?

    The transport question at Bayview is in fact the main reason why a stadium and new commercial development would work very well while not harming communities.

    No new large parking areas are needed because you have 4,000 empty parking spots at Tunney’s Pasture every time there is a game. Shuttle rides can easily take park and ride fans down the parkway into the northern end of the Bayview Stadium site and down the Transitway on the Southern End thereby avoiding Mechanicsville.

    Park and Ride from Kanata at Eagleson, From Orleans at Place d’Orleans, from Ottawa South and further along the O-Train, and people can use their downtown car passes for parking and transitway into the stadium.

    Major European stadiums of 100,000 have no parking and no wide roads, and people get to the games via rapid transit or walk or by bike.

    It is a paradigm shift in thinking. Get away from the large parking lots. develop close to rapid transit, encourage solar, geo-thermal and of course wind next to the Ottawa River.

    And above all clean the poisoned land that is still polluting the Ottawa River and turn a brownfield into an ecological gem.

    We are a Nation’s Capital, and we should be leading first by good ethical process, and then by the highest standards of Urban Planning, re-use of materials, Platinum LEED and re-usable energy.

    Our City, Our Ottawa, Our Nation’s Capital.

  12. “Also. In all your pretty drawings, I don’t see the parking lots, or massively widened roadways that will destroy existing the existing neighborhood. My neighborhood.” Matt, if retail and a stadium are such a great benefit to all why wouldn’t you want them in your neighbourhood?

  13. Alain got it right! It’s a city-building project. A concept not new to Ottawa, the place, but a notion foreign to many present residents, who fail to understand that our chief, primary, in fact our only commonly shared activity as residents is “city-building”. This is the highest civilized activity. It makes one Parisian. Or perhaps a New Yorker. A Londoner, even. A concept which the Torontopia initiative highlights and celebrates. As people, we construct the good life. And either we do that through husbandry and rural landscaping, or else we build cities of the highest renown. Cities compete for resources, not countries. Cities compete for people, not provinces. Through our cities, we gain fame, fortune, fun, and (with too much of it in Ottawa) marked folly.

    So what are we doing here, in Ottawa? What does Ottawa city-building as an incessant activity/dialogue look and feel like? Ottawatopia doesn’t sound as good. But it seems the conversation is gaining needed parameters and ambition. How exciting.

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