After shelling out tens of millions of dollars more than it originally anticipated to get the football stadium and hockey arena at Lansdowne Park back in game shape, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is seeking new ways of driving up attendance at the sports and retail hub.
OSEG, which owns the CFL’s Redblacks, the OHL’s 67’s and pro soccer’s Fury sports club as well as the retail and office properties at Lansdowne Park, says it’s launched a full review of all services and attractions at the 40-acre urban park in an effort to boost the number of visitors to the site.
During a presentation to the city’s finance and economic development committee on Tuesday, OSEG chief executive Mark Goudie said repairs and technology upgrades to the 50-year-old football stadium and arena, along with higher-than-expected startup expenses, ended up costing the OSEG partners more than $80 million more than originally expected.
Repaying those costs over the 30-year life of the organization’s agreement with the city is a large part of the reason why OSEG now projects it won’t recover $102 million of its funding, Goudie said. The city, meanwhile, isn’t expected to get back $62 million it expected to receive for its $24-million deemed equity contribution in the project.
Now, OSEG says it’s going to bring a list of recommendations to the city by the end of June for new events aimed at boosting annual attendance at the site by 35 per cent to a total of more than five million visitors.
“We want it to be Ottawa’s pre-eminent entertainment hub 12 months of the year,” Goudie told OBJ after his presentation.
A third-party survey last summer found that although people who do come to Lansdowne visit an average of five or six times a year, one-third of the Ottawa residents surveyed had never been to the site.
That number was an eye-opener, Goudie conceded, but the CEO said it shows there’s plenty of room for growth in current revenue projections if OSEG gets its mix of events right.
Many people polled said they wanted to see a greater variety of events at Lansdowne, naming more arts and winter programming as examples of attractions that would entice them to visit, he said.
OSEG has already begun diversifying the roster of activities at Lansdowne, Goudie told the committee, noting it will be hosting a “world-class Bavarian-style Christmas market” every weekend in December.
“There’s a whole new group of people that we can get coming to Lansdowne.”
“If we’re drawing four million people right now and a third of Ottawa hasn’t been here because we’re not offering what they want and need, that’s great news if we figure out how to crack that code,” Goudie said in an interview later Tuesday. “There’s a whole new group of people that we can get coming to Lansdowne.”
Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, whose ward includes Lansdowne, said he wants to see more of a consistent buzz around the park, particularly during the winter.
“To say that this is a great financial investment, I think we need to do better,” Menard said, while calling for fewer cars at Lansdowne and more activity around the nearby Rideau Canal.
OSEG managing partner Roger Greenberg told the committee his group has also started meeting with officials from the city and the National Capital Commission on ways to draw more visitors to the canal area. Greenberg said the organization realizes Lansdowne’s current offerings aren’t capturing the attention of a significant chunk of the local market and is aiming to broaden the park’s appeal.
“We need to roll up our sleeves and we need to work with our partners, with the City of Ottawa,” he said.
Goudie also said OSEG is looking at developing a long-term maintenance plan for the aging north-side stands at TD Place.
“We’ve got some early thoughts on a bunch of things,” he said, adding it’s too early to put a price tag on any proposals.
“We’re not even at that stage yet,” he noted.
No firm LRT date yet
Meanwhile, the city says it still doesn’t know exactly when the Rideau Transit Group will hand over the keys to stage two of the $2.1-billion Confederation LRT line.
OC Transpo boss John Manconi told the finance and economic development committee Tuesday that if all goes according to plan, the consortium building the 12.5-kilometre system could have it ready for the city by Canada Day. Passengers won’t be riding the trains until several weeks after the handover.
In his latest monthly update to the committee, Manconi said the city has taken occupancy of nine of the 13 transit stations and all 34 light-rail trains are now finished and being tested.