It has been said that political campaigns are about promises and governance is about making decisions and progress. Sometimes it is hard to connect the dots between promises and action in a functioning and health democracy. Initiating the revitalization of Lansdowne Park is a good example of that difficulty.
It was important to me to finally fixed Lansdowne since it was a major campaign promise I made in 2006. I even had an interactive video of how Lansdowne should be fixed on my 2006 web site. Along with taxes, the transit tunnel and the the new Convention centre formed the basis of much of my campaign and as a life long resident of Ottawa I had become embarrassed over its run down condition .
Lansdowne Park had been in a sad state for the last twenty years so when Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy, Bill Shenkman and 67’s owner Jeff Hunt first approached me with the idea of bringing back CFL football to Ottawa I pounced on it as a chance to make good on one of my campaign promises. Fixing Lansdowne in the most tax effect way for the Citizens of Ottawa was my key motivation for this project.
Many Citizens thought that the CFL returning to Ottawa was the key driver for this project. They were wrong. It was almost a side car issue for me that the CFL would be returning to Ottawa. First and foremost the goal was to finally fix Lansdowne Park and to do it in such a way as to enhance the City for the next 100 years. To do so, the four promoters took on a massive project that has tested skills and patience of their exceptional team of professionals.
The broad based support for progress
Lansdowne was a controversial project but the project and its magic captured the support of the NCC and Parks Canada, and most importantly the majority of Citizens. Lansdowne Live even solved the trade show space problem for Ottawa by negotiating a business relationship with the Ottawa airport authority to build new trade show space at the airport that will bring exciting and new trade show business to Ottawa for years to come. The airport location is exactly where trade show space should be; lots of parking and easy access. Of course not everyone was happy with the project plans.
The foes of the Lansdowne renewal project were very active and animated. With the ruling by Justice hackland I hope that is all over and done with. There were also six left leaning members of my Council who really wanted the project stopped. After our City Manager and chief Lansdowne negotiator, Kent Kirpatrick met with then Capital Ward Councilor Clive Doucet he made an interesting observation. He said he did not realize that Clive would be capable of justifying any means in order to stop the project. Doucet was against the project and he was prepared to do anything to stop it from becoming a reality.
It was startling insight and brought to mind the comment made by American President Ronald Reagan on January 29, 1981 that Soviet leadership had “ openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.” In short any means justifies the ends of many on the left of the spectrum because they often feel they have the moral high ground in any situation because they truly believe they represent the greater good.
During the course of the many debates on Lansdowne the City Managers observation about the ends justifying the means became very frustrating as was seen in the face of Roger Greenberg on several occasions that he would debate Clive at Council presentations. In my thirty five years as a business man I have never seen anything as disingenuous as the debating positions taken by the opponents of the Lansdowne revitalization project during the course of the debates and public delegations .
It was and still is a battle that will challenge the new Mayor and Council but I am confident in their abilities to move the project forward. It is the right project for Ottawa. On the other side of the coin was the the role of free choice and capitalism and how that challenged the project.
Kanata and the lost opportunity
One of the early options that I actively explored was to locate the new stadium in Kanata right beside Scotia Bank place. It was an intriguing concept and would have enabled both a soccer team and a CFL team to play their games right beside Scotia Bank Place. It would reduce the amount of development at Lansdowne required to fund the revitalization of the Park and create a sports hub in the west end of the City and justify the investment into mass transit to the site since it would running just about year round. We had City land available in the exact right place to build the stadium and it seemed like a win for all parties. To me and the City Manager this was the ideal solution and we were very excited about reaching a possible location that would reflect nicely on the City.
But the reality of free choice became clear when it turned out that the sponsors of the Professional Soccer league did not have an interest in co-locating with a CFL team. In my Mayor’s Board room in a one on one telephone conversation with Eugene Melnk it became clear he did not want to share their stadium with a sport he truly did not believe in. He was clear on this position and said he would only move forward with the MLS soccer if the stadium was single purpose soccer facility and under his management control.
He had the perfect right to that position but in a different way from Clive , I found this line of reasoning curious since it would have been the City and perhaps even the Province that would have funded the new dual purpose stadium. It was a City facility and my objective as Mayor was to finally fix up Lansdowne park and my responsibility to the overall good of the community forced me to go back to keeping the stadium at Lansdowne park. There was little wrong either of their positions since one was fighting for a political cause they believe in and the other was exercising the right of free choice. But it is a good example of how difficult the role of Mayor is in a modern City like Ottawa with divergent views and thinking passionate people. But all’s well that ends well!
In the end the resulting plans are spectacular and all is well that ends well. Ritchard Brisbane and Barry Hobin worked well with the National Capital Commission and Parks Canada to create a wonderful plan that will invigorate the site and bring it back to life. They truly represent world class capability in design and engineering and the beauty and functionality of the design is breathtaking. Ritchard also contributed to the beautiful new Convention Centre design that is also world class in every way.
A revitalized Lansdowne Park and a brand new trade show facility at the Ottawa International airport will change the way Ottawa works for many decades to come. When these projects are completed in 2013 Ottawa will be a better place and it will have taken the will of two Councils and the hard work of many Government and private sector employees and all who are involved should feel very proud of the accomplishment of finally fixing Lansdowne Park. Ottawa is a great City and worth all the efforts to keep it that way!
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