The Untold Lansdowne Park Story– making long term decisions by Larry O’Brien
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 healthy democracy. Initiating the revitalization of Lansdowne Park is a good example of that difficulty.
Along with keeping taxes low, securing funding for the downtown transit tunnel and completing the new convention centre, fixing Lansdowne Park was another major campaign promise I made in 2006 that I was committed to getting done. I even had an interactive video of how Lansdowne should be fixed on my 2006 web site.
As a lifelong resident of Ottawa I was embarrassed over its run down condition. Lansdowne has been in a sad state for the last twenty years. Then Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy, Bill Shenkman and Jeff Hunt approached me with the idea of bringing back CFL football to Ottawa. I pounced on this plan, not so much for the return of the CFL to Ottawa but as a way to make good on one of my campaign promises in a very tax efficient manner for the Citizens of Ottawa.
The revitalization of Lansdowne has always been a controversial subject. My goal was, first and foremost, 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, tested the skills and patience of not only the four promoters and their exceptional teams, but also those of many of the city staff involved in steering this project through City Hall. And to their credit, they came up with a great concept that would stand the test of time.
Renown architects, Richard Brisbin, Barry Hobin and Robert Claiborne, worked well with the National Capital Commission (NCC) and Parks Canada to create a wonderful plan that would invigorate the site and bring it back to life. They truly represent world class capability in design and engineering and the design that resulted was one of beauty and functionality and was truly breathtaking. The proposed magic of the plan captured the imagination and support of the NCC, Parks Canada and most importantly, the majority of Ottawa Citizens. Lansdowne Live, as it became to be known, even solved the trade show space problem for Ottawa by including 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.
Of course not everyone was happy with the project plans. The foes of the Lansdowne renewal project were very active and animated in their opposition to the plan and to this day, they are still battling with City Hall. There were six left leaning members of my Council who really wanted the project stopped. Councillor Clive Doucet was the most ardent opposer of the group. Councillor Doucet was prepared to do anything to stop Lansdowne Live from becoming a reality. This was underscored after our City Manager and chief Lansdowne negotiator, Kent Kirkpatrick met with then Capital Ward Councilor, Clive Doucet he made an interesting observation. He said he did not realize that Councillor Doucet would be capable of justifying any means in order to stop the project.
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 unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat…” In short, any means justifies the ends of many on the left of the political spectrum because they often feel they have the moral high ground in any situation. They truly believe they represent the greater good.
This belief proved very frustrating for all involved in trying to move a plan, any plan forward. One could see it on the face of Roger Greenberg on several occasions when he debated Councillor Doucet at Council presentations. In my thirty five years as a businessman, I have never seen anything as disingenuous as the debating positions taken by the opponents of the Lansdowne revitalization project.
It is a battle for any Mayor to convert promises into reality; the campaign versus governance. Lansdowne Live was a battle for me and will be a battle for the new Mayor but I am confident the project will move forward. It is the right project for Ottawa now and for the future.
Larry O’Brien is a former mayor of Ottawa, ON, Canada (2006-2010)