History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme

With Lansdowne Park’s redevelopment still on the minds of many Ottawans, the future of the city’s east-end baseball stadium might echo Mark Twain’s words of wisdom.

Critics of Lansdowne’s redevelopment complained that there should have been more public involvement in final plans for the site. And Mauril Bélanger, the Liberal incumbent for Ottawa-Vanier, says he understands why some citizens might be anxious about the fate of the 10,000-seat Ottawa Stadium.

“I know that the city was criticized for not holding public consultations for Lansdowne. So let’s learn from that,” says Bélanger, a long-time baseball fan.

Ottawa Stadium cost taxpayers about $17 million when it was built in the early 1990s.

“Let’s be creative and imaginative with what to do with the venue, if it’s not going to be baseball,” Bélanger says. “Perhaps we can have a competition of ideas before we make a final decision.”

But a report recently released by the city both surprised and angered many local community groups. The report recommended making the site more financially sustainable by converting the stadium into an outdoor concert venue and developing condos on the site of the current parking lot.

“Let’s not just have a city report saying we could turn this into shops and condos,” said Bélanger. “I’m not sure that we need another place for shopping areas and condos, especially with what’s been spent to develop that place.”

“I think we owe it to our city to be a diversified city. We only have the one baseball team, and we need to think twice before we scrap it.”

The Ottawa Stadium Group and its semi-pro baseball team, the Fat Cats, are currently in the middle of a two-year lease. But the city is pessimistic about any baseball team making the stadium financially sustainable in the long term.

The riding’s NDP candidate, Trevor Haché, echoed these concerns.

“The stands are rarely full, and I think the space is underutilized at the moment,” he said.

“There’s been a number of different teams that have begun and then folded over the years,” Haché says. “I don’t think it’s worthwhile for provincial, municipal or federal governments to be investing in something that seems to me isn’t necessarily the most viable of private businesses.”

The general manager of the Ottawa Fat Cats, Duncan MacDonald, disagrees that the stadium is underused. He says there are 118 events booked at the stadium—little-league games and training camps, for example—and that’s on top of 18 home games featuring the Fat Cats. MacDonald added that stadiums aren’t intended to be moneymakers, anyway.

“Every sports complex loses money in the City of Ottawa,” he says. “The stadium was not designed to make money, it was designed to serve the community.”

Admittedly not a baseball fan, Haché believes Ottawans aren’t very interested in having a baseball team in Ottawa. He thinks Ottawa would be better off having a soccer team like Toronto and Montreal.

But like Bélanger, Haché believes the public has a right to weigh in on the future of the stadium.

Haché also questioned the city’s consideration of using the stadium as a concert venue.

“It does not seem to have been designed with concerts in mind. It was designed as a baseball stadium,” he says. “Plus, it’s located close to a lot of residential houses.”

Rem Westland, the Conservative candidate for the Ottawa-Vanier riding, also pitched in.

“Politically, I wouldn’t stick my finger into that pie, as it’s a municipal and not a federal issue,” Westland says. “But as a resident of the riding, I would be opposed to them building condos on the land.”

Westland also spoke of a need for the city to employ a public decision-making process.

Since the report was released, mayor Jim Watson advised that any decisions on the long-term future of the stadium be deferred until the public is consulted. The city’s finance and economic development committee heeded that advice.