OSEG’s proposal to take over Lansdowne public spaces rebuffed at committee meeting

Ottawa farmers market
The Ottawa Farmers' Market in Aberdeen Square. Photo via Ottawa Tourism

A proposal that would have seen the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group assume control of Lansdowne Park’s public spaces has been thoroughly revised after a horde of concerned residents turned out to a city committee meeting on Tuesday.

Heading into this week’s meeting of Ottawa’s finance and economic development committee, city staff had endorsed a plan that would have seen OSEG – the owner of the CFL’s Redblacks, the OHL’s 67s and the Ottawa Fury FC soccer club – take over operation of Aberdeen Square, the Horticulture Building and other public spaces at Lansdowne Park. OSEG already manages TD Place stadium and arena and the commercial and retail spaces at the site.

But a revision to the motion from Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff, developed in concert with Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, reeled in the proposal. Rather than allowing city staff to hand over responsibility for Lansdowne Park’s public realm to OSEG, the revised motion instructed staff to engage in “exploratory discussions” with the city’s partner organization to find new ways to collaboratively manage bookings at the site.

Luloff’s motion also included provisions to protect the status quo for event operators at Lansdowne, such as the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and 613flea. It also locked in rental rates for the city and other community members seeking to use the site, which includes differential rates for non-profits hosting events at the Horticulture Building.

City staff will deliver a report on its discussions with OSEG staff and supplementary consultations with the public in the second quarter of 2020.

Fighting for public space

The motion appeared to satisfy most residents who showed up to FEDCO looking to fight back against what they viewed as a land grab by a private operator. Still, many of the more than 40 delegates opted to speak their piece.

Some delegates were upset about the suddenness of OSEG’s proposal, calling for more transparency into the organization’s business case for running the site. 

Catherine Knoll, market manager for 613flea, said she was concerned OSEG would increase the number of commercial, ticketed events at Lansdowne, giving those revenue-generating activities preference over community-oriented programming.

OSEG chief Mark Goudie, who presented a financial update on the organization Tuesday and fielded questions on the ownership proposal, told OBJ last week his group’s proposal to operate Lansdowne’s public spaces was intended to “enhance and broaden” the events taking place at the site.

A few delegates, including Catherine Callary from Ottawa Tourism and Erin Benjamin from the Canadian Live Music Association, vouched for OSEG as a community-minded operator that would improve the overall quality of Lansdowne programming if given more control over the site’s public spaces.

Carol Anne Piccinin, executive director of the Ottawa Festival Network, told the meeting how imperative it was to the capital’s arts and culture scene to have robust consultations on the future of Lansdowne.

“No other space in Ottawa today can offer the industry what Lansdowne can,” she said.

Update on OSEG’s bottom line

Goudie also provided an update on OSEG’s financial performance in fiscal 2019 at Tuesday’s FEDCO meeting. Because the organization changed its fiscal calendar in the past year, his update covered 15 months from January 2018 to the end of March 2019 and results are compared to fiscal 2017.

Still, the organization’s performance over the 2018 calendar year is hard to compare to previous years ​– not only because of the change in OSEG’s fiscal calendar, but because of the one-time boosts from the 2017 Grey Cup Festival and the NHL 100 Classic outdoor hockey game, both of which lead to inordinately high attendance and revenues at the tail end of that year.

OSEG brought in revenues of $61 million for fiscal 2019, down 10 per cent year-over-year. If the impact of the Grey Cup is removed, however, revenues in the last fiscal year were up 20 per cent from 2017.

Attendance last year was also down slightly from 2017, as expected, to 3.7 million. Lansdowne Park is expected to exceed four million visitors by the end of calendar 2019. OSEG said earlier this year it was undertaking a strategic review of its operations in hopes of attracting more visitors to the park.

The Lansdowne Park office tower is more than 87 per cent leased as of the end of fiscal 2019, up from 70 per cent at the end of fiscal 2017. The 340,000 square feet of retail space in the park is now 98 per cent leased, as compared with 95 per cent in 2017.

OSEG announced earlier this year that it does not expect to recoup its initial $102-million equity investment in the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, nor will the city expect to collect its $62 million in accrued investment on its initial $24-million funding on the project.