image of the winning Lansdowne redevelopment design by Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg
Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.
As councillor for Bay Ward, Alex Cullen has been a vocal critic of the redevelopment plans for Lansdowne Park--mostly because of the questions marks surrounding transportation on the site. Redeveloping the swaths of land devoted to parking is great, Cullen said, but without being served by public transit, building a huge number of destinations at Lansdowne is contrary to the City of Ottawa's goals of building a more sustainable city--and, he says, is a "disaster".
Lansdowne, in my view, is making a huge mistake in terms of urban planning. It’s taking an example of a site which has tonnes of uses, and not "walking the walk" when it comes to transit. The whole notion that you have a 24,000-seat stadium, a 10,000-seat arena, 1,700-seat cinema, 340,000 square feet of commercial retail located at a site with no access to rapid transit; if someone came into this town with a 340,000-square-foot shopping centre in Orleans, Riverside South, in Kanata, we’d obligate them to be located by the Transitway. But we’re not doing that here. On top of all that, it’s an area that doesn't have sufficient parking, so you’d think transit would be the solution--but there’s no access to transit. [...] It’s a disaster, and it’s just bad urban planning. [...] Why create this obligation to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a mistake that you can avoid?
Instead, Cullen has suggested perhaps using a different site to house a stadium for pro football (or even soccer) in Ottawa, one that lies along existing transit lines.
We have an inventory of football sites in this town, there are about 30 other places that meet the criteria of being on rapid transit. Bayview Yards is one example, it’s not the only one, but there it is: City-owned site, right by the Transitway, with proximity to downtown, and it just meets those criteria that are there in our official plan, and has the hierarchy of walking/cycling/transit that respects smart growth. But you’re not dealing with rationale here; you’re dealing with the emotion of football glory days.
Although Cullen has suggested an alternative site, such as Bayview Yards, to house an outdoor stadium for Ottawa, there hasn't been much political capital invested in building the stadium elsewhere--much of the energy has been directed at stopping the Lansdowne development. Still, Cullen thinks it's feasible for a brand new stadium to be built at Bayview Yards.
For $130M, you could certainly put a sports stadium up at Bayview Yards, and you’re on rapid transit. You could marry in some trade-show space, as well, to make better use of the facility—that makes sense—so that would help offset some of those costs. It’s not a startling new idea, this idea has been debated around the Council table during this Lansdowne proposal, but the lobbying by the developers has put it on the backburner. The developers are going for the bird-in-hand, and the bird-in-hand is that the city puts up the money, refurbishes the stadium, and gives them the keys to the whole site, and they have access to land for 50 years for commercial development, and that commercial development will pay for the football franchise. Great for them, but it’s a horrible example of urban planning, with all these uses and no access to rapid transit. It’s council that has the obligation for good urban planning, and it’s council that’s dropping the ball.
After Cullen spoke with Public Transit in Ottawa, city council debated the redevelopment of Lansdowne and, after rejecting Cullen's motion to defer the decision on the site to the next council, ended up supporting the current plan. Still, with some councillors suggesting legal action may be taken, it seems unlikely that the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park is a done deal.