The head of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is defending the organization’s proposal to take over public programming at Lansdowne Park, saying the goal is to “enhance and broaden” the number of free events at the site.
OSEG, the owner of the CFL’s Redblacks, pro soccer’s Fury FC and junior hockey’s 67’s, already owns the arena and football stadium at Lansdowne and manages its commercial properties.
City staff have endorsed the organization’s recent offer to take charge of programming and booking of events at Lansdowne’s outdoor plaza, where the weekend Ottawa Farmers Market is held, as well as at the Aberdeen Pavilion, the Horticulture Building and the Great Lawn. City employees currently handle those tasks.
Several hundred people attended a public meeting at the Horticulture Building to discuss OSEG’s proposal on Monday night. OSEG chief executive Mark Goudie was among those who addressed the crowd in an effort to reassure residents that popular events such as the farmers market and 613flea market will continue.
“If their desire is to grow, then hopefully we can accommodate that,” he said in an interview with OBJ on Tuesday.
While acknowledging that those events are “staples” of Lansdowne’s public programming calendar, Goudie argued that OSEG has the marketing expertise and financial clout to diversify and expand its list of offerings and draw more people to the site.
Goudie said the city does a “fabulous” job at putting on events with the limited resources it has at its disposal, “but the city have four staff at Lansdowne. We bring the entire OSEG organization to the table,” he added.
“What I see us being able to do is to enhance and broaden the base of the programming that happens at Lansdowne.”
By way of example, Goudie pointed to public venues such as Atlanta’s Ponce City Market – a mixed-use community hub in a historic former warehouse that includes a food hall, restaurants, boutiques and offices – and Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, an 85-acre site run by a non-for-profit corporation that features a mix of residential, office and retail space.
He said the idea is to drive more traffic to Lansdowne on non-game days in the hope that people attending events will stick around to shop and eat, creating an economic “spinoff effect” for those businesses.
“We know that the programming that happens at Lansdowne is very good, but we want it to be spectacular,” he said. “I think we (will) know we have kind of arrived in terms of programming when people are asking themselves, ‘Where do you want to go today?’ And the answer is, ‘Let’s go down to Lansdowne because there’s something unique and interesting and world-class that’s happening all the time.’”
But the councillor for the area, Shawn Menard, said many residents fear OSEG’s plan would lead to a gradual erosion of events such as the farmers market in favour of paid programming that’s designed to maximize profits for the organization.
He said he’s already collected nearly 500 signatures on a petition calling for the city to launch “robust public consultations” before entering into any negotiations with OSEG.
“People care about those things as taxpayers,” he said. “They don’t want to be subsidizing more than they already have that site. That’s the sort of thing that should be discussed in advance before we make a decision to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to negotiate with one particular partner on this.’”
Menard, who attended Monday night’s meeting, said he would prefer to see city staff work together with OSEG on new public programming at Lansdowne rather than give up full control.
“There’s no reason why it has to be turned over (to OSEG) in order to do that sort of thing,” he said. “There’s a lot that we could be doing on our own. The city’s been doing a pretty good job there. Of course there can be improvements, but this is a drastic decision to be made to get improvements there.”
Menard said Lansdowne’s overall financial picture is brightening, noting that the number of people attending public events has been rising every year. Rental revenues for city-owned spaces such as the Horticulture Building have also gone up while operating expenses have been reduced, he added.
“We’ve got a good thing going on the public side of this site, and you risk that when you enter into a further (public-private partnership) of this sort.”
Goudie said OSEG has no intention of going ahead with its plan without getting input from the public, noting the proposal is just the first step in what he called a “multi-month” process of consultation with residents and city staff.
The city’s finance and economic development committee will consider the proposal at its next meeting on Nov. 5.