If a recent meeting is any indication, many Ottawa residents are outraged about an updated redevelopment proposal for Lansdowne Park.

At a “Let’s Talk Lansdowne” forum in the park’s Horticulture Building, people, in the crowd of 300, reacted angrily to the rising costs, the lack of affordable housing in the plan and a variety of other issues.

One event panellist, Walter Robinson, asked city councillors in attendance if the city had the information necessary to make a financially responsible decision.

“Do you believe you have all of the information you need to make a decision that will impact the city for 14 years,” asked Robinson, a former director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “That’s what a million people in this city want you to answer as you work through these next three weeks.”

More than 300 people packed the Horticulture Building to talk about the future of Lansdowne Park on Oct. 11, 2023. [Photo @ Yumna Iftikhar]

Locals eager to discuss the controversial project began filling the historic building shortly before 7 p.m on Oct. 11. One of the organizers of the meeting, June Creelman, estimated that the crowd exceeded 300 people. 

“For 300 people to come out in person when they could have just stayed at home and watched it on live stream, or watch it tomorrow, or just read about it shows that there’s a huge amount of concern,” said Creelman, who also volunteers for the Glebe Community Association.

Preliminary models of redeveloped Landsdowne

An aerial view of the Event Centre and stadium facilities:

The interior of the new 5,500-seat Event Centre located adjacent to the east end zone:

The exterior of the two residential buildings planned for the retail podium:

Around 27,900 square feet of new community space integrated into the plaza:

Images courtesy of the City of Ottawa. For more details, please refer to the revised report.

Several city councillors also attended: Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard, who has been skeptical about the redevelopment, along with River Coun. Riley Brockington, Orléans West-Innes Coun. Laura Dudas, Barrhave West Coun. David Hill and Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh. Senator Andrew Cardozo was also in attendance.

“I’m super happy to see such a good turnout of folks to come and have their say on an issue that’s super important to the city,” said Hill.

A revised plan

On Oct. 6, the city released an updated Lansdowne 2.0 proposal from the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). Dubbed “Lansdowne 2.1” by event moderator Peter Engleman, the proposal’s revisions included decreased density while raising the project’s overall cost.

The new report outlined plans to redevelop the North Side Stands at TD Place and building a “state-of-the-art” centre just beyond the stadium to host hockey games and other events.

Also included are two high-rise towers and plans to redevelop a portion of the existing mixed-use retail space attached to the stadium.

The previous proposal, approved by council in June 2022, was met with public criticism amid concerns over transparency. These criticisms have not gone away.

Concerns over cost

Although there has already been public engagement on how to proceed with Landsdowne 2.0, many residents, community associations and civic groups still felt the plan needed more revision.

Among the most pressing concerns surrounding the proposal was the cost estimate, which increased by $86.5 million to $419.1 million. According to Robinson, the estimate should really be roughly $461 million.

“We believe the $18.6 million of underground parking should be included,” he said. “And $23 million of business interruption costs.”

Walter Robinson explains why he thinks the Lansdowne 2.0 proposal needs more work during a community meeting on Oct. 11, 2023. [Photo @ Yumna Iftikhar]

Robinson said he believes that the final bill will be closer to $500 million.

The rise in cost happened even though the updated proposal dropped a third high-rise tower, lowering the total number of units from 1,200 to 770. The towers will no longer include any affordable units, which angered the crowd.

Who does the project benefit?

Speaking to the panel, former Capital Ward resident Brandon Bay questioned who the remaining units would benefit.

“I’m angry that with the loss of the third tower goes all the affordable housing that we were supposed to get here,” said Bay, president of Make Housing Affordable. “I’m frustrated that the units that we’re left with are just homogenous luxury closets in the sky that do nothing to help people in … housing need and do nothing to help middle-class families like mine live in this great community.”

The proposal would allocate $3.9 million to the city’s affordable housing fund.

With the scrapping of the third tower, the construction of new parking stalls was also significantly reduced from 739 to 336 for tenants and 35 for event centre visitors. The report said that the event centre parking spots provide “an opportunity to ensure there is accessible parking for guests with mobility issues and to support community uses including minor hockey.”

The report further claimed that the simplified parking plan will reduce transportation demands at peak hours by 42 per cent. Yet, some argue it will not improve public transit to and from the area.

Catherine Knoll, the market manager for 613 Flea (a once a month market in the Aberdeen Pavilion), said it is essential that there is a more realistic transportation plan for the increased number of people the project will attract to the site before the proposal moves forward.

“We currently, as 613 Flea, attract people from across the city and asking them to come from a distance on regular public transit is realistically not going to happen,” said Knoll. “Some can come by car, but with about the same number of parking spaces and much more demand on those spaces, parking is going to be problematic.”

Angus McCabe, chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Parks Committee, added that, while the project says it will create 0.26 hectares of new public greenspace, it will remove even more of the existing grassy hill and berm, specifically 0.46 hectares, currently overlooking the stadium field and green space in the east.

“A sloping grassy hill from which to enjoy a game or event in the stadium with friends and family on one side and a vista of the park’s other existing green space on the other is being shifted east, reduced in size by 50,000 square feet, and replaced by a 45 foot, three-story arena with no green roof,” said McCabe.

McCabe says there were alternative options for a new arena away from Lansdowne Park, such as LeBreton Flats.

Former Heritage Ottawa president David Flemming was concerned about the impact the two new towers could have on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

June Creelman, a volunteer for the Glebe Community Association, was one of the organizers for “Let’s Talk Lansdowne.” She said she was very impressed by the turnout of Ottawa residents at the Oct. 11 community meeting event. [Photo © Yumna Iftikhar]

“You can say the two towers are far enough away from the Canal, but they’re not,” Flemming said. “They’re going to cast a shadow, they’re in the viewpoint.”

But Flemming said he believes the breaking point for the project will come down to economics rather than heritage.

All in all, Toby Sanger, a retired economist and former Executive Director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, said it is appalling the city is not using taxpayer dollars to fund more important projects.

“There’s a crisis in affordable housing here, and there’s been very little money put into that, right? And you know, people talked about how this mayor came into office saying spending more money on bike lanes was too much,” said Sanger. “That’s a fraction of what the cost of this is.”

Looking foward

A joint meeting of the Financial and Corporate Services Committee and the Planning and Housing Committee will discuss the plan and revise zoning on the site and amend the official plan on Nov. 2. The Built Heritage Committee will then consider the final report on Nov. 6 before it is finally presented to council on Nov. 10 for a decision.