RE: “Ottawa Stadium plan must not evolve in secret”

Caption

According to Citizen columnist Joanne Chianello, Ottawa Stadium should sit empty for a long time, as it did for an entire summer in 2009 (photo courtesy Canadian Baseball Network)

We have some breaking developments in the Ottawa Baseball world. Take it away, David Reevely:

Any scheme to pay for a sports stadium with a nearby land development will draw obvious parallels with the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, a $400-million project that’s to bring a Canadian Football League team back to a revamped Frank Clair Stadium, partly funded by commercial and residential development on the north and west edges of the city-owned Glebe property. The city agreed to a deal with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, composed mainly of developers, and had to fight several rounds in court to defend its legality.

A deal around Ottawa Stadium would be a bit different: the site doesn’t have a hundred-year history as a fairground and public gathering place and hasn’t been left to rot since the Lynx left after the 2007 baseball season, though it does need several million dollars’ worth of work to modernize and upgrade it. The city last year pledged to spend $5.7 million to retrofit the stadium if a team can be nailed down.

The Ottawa Stadium project being compared to the similar one at Lansdowne would have happened eventually and I’m not really bothered by that. However, it’s the idea of Joanne Chianello that is troubling me, as she wrote in her Citizen column yesterday morning.

It’s believed now that the city is dealing, not with Beacon, but with Mandalay Sports Entertainment and Professional Sports Catering. And not only will Ottawa not be getting a new baseball team this year, there likely won’t be one in 2014 either.

But here comes the most unsettling part, brought to light by Citizen reporter David Reevely: the city, the Eastern League and the potential franchise owners, have all been discussing options for funding the team that could include developing city lands.

Naturally, these revelations invoke uncomfortable comparisons to the divisive — and not exactly transparent — process that led to the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.

Have our top city politicians learned nothing?

Perhaps they have. Although it certainly appears that the players in this baseball deal are hatching plans behind closed doors, it seems their machinations are still at the concept stage.

But it’s not too late to do this right, for a change. This latest discussion about developing land around Ottawa Stadium still seems to be in its early stages. In other words, exactly the moment when the public should become engaged. Many of our elected officials have said that one of their priorities for this term of council is to consult more meaningfully with the people of Ottawa. Here’s a prime chance for them to show they’re really ready to play ball.

From what I’ve read here, the opinion of Ms. Chianello is that there should be public consultation before a decision is made on what to do with the Stadium. This is the wrong way to go about things.

Chianello is right in a way – the city can indeed learn from Lansdowne Park with this new Stadium project. If they wish for the Stadium’s revitalization to be completed in time, I suggest that they refrain from public consultation.

We don’t need unnecessary delays here and while the public’s opinion is important, what good would it do? It would further delay the process of bringing a Double-A baseball team to the city. If they did go ahead with this, I would be surprised to see a team hit the field by 2017 or 2018.

This would do more damage than good to the prospects of off-field success. The reason that investors had their eye on Ottawa in the first place was due to the fans that the Fat Cats were able to draw. If this city goes 5+ years without a team – and you know that we would if a public forum is opened – that momentum that OSG and the Fat Cats brought could very well simmer off into nothing.

If they do follow the route that Ms. Chianello is telling them to, I would hope that baseball would continue to be played at the Stadium during the long and drawn out process, preferably in the form of the Fat Cats. Having Ottawa Stadium empty for that long would be an absolute disaster.

Taking the public’s consideration into account in this situation isn’t adequate. Given prior record, the review process could take years. If the renovations to happen to go ahead as planned, they’ll be handled well and the public will enjoy the new facility – those in charge know what they’re doing.

The city is pretty adamant that Double-A ball is what they want and it appears with these talks that things are on the right track (why would be even be discussing this if gaining a team was a long shot?). Let’s aim for 2015 as a first pitch date and stop the avoidable concern for public consultation.

 

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