CFL takes a stand

CFL Commisioner Mark Cohon took time out of his day yesterday to issue an open letter to the...

CFL Commisioner Mark Cohon took time out of his day yesterday to issue an open letter to the citizens of Ottawa. (Sun Media/Jim Wells)

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

After some verbal jousting the last couple of days between the two heavyweights who want to be in control of our sports and entertainment landscape for the next 30 years, it's expected we're going to find out the rules of the fight today.

The city manager is expected to release today the process by which the proposals for a new stadium and outdoor concert facility will be evaluated.

To a certain extent, that should allow us to play the home version of "Kanata or Lansdowne; soccer or football?"

This is going to be one of the most important decisions city council will make in recent memory and will define, to a large extent, our sports and concert-going experiences for the next generation.

It is a choice of vision, of suburbs vs. downtown, define where development will gravitate, affect the requirements for future public transit.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is on one side, the west-end side, angling for a Major League Soccer franchise to play on city-owned land adjacent to Scotiabank Place.

The Jeff Hunt-led coalition of blue-chip developers want to put a CFL franchise in a refurbished Frank Clair Stadium in a spiffed-up Lansdowne Park in the north-south downtown corridor.

Both want about $80 million in government involvement to make their respective projects happen.

Mayor Larry O'Brien threw out a new, if not feasible, option on the table yesterday in answering a question at a breakfast function saying the Bay Yards, next to LeBreton Flats, is the best location for a new stadium, but told the Sun's Derek Puddicombe afterwards council will hear out the Hunt and Melnyk proposals before looking at anything else.

Just something else to think about (Capital Coun. Clive Doucet, whose ward incorporates Lansdowne and is apparently opposed to anyone having fun at Frank Clair, jumped all over Hizzonor's Bay Yards suggestion like a Glebite on a granola bar. "That's where (the stadium) should be," he said. (Thanks, Clive.)

The Melnyk and Hunt groups, meanwhile, are jockeying for the hearts and minds of the Ottawa's populace and the battle heated up yesterday.

BETTING $50 MILLION

Melnyk, an astute horseman, told the Sun's editorial board Tuesday that in a two-horse race between soccer and CFL football, he's betting $50 million (the cost in Canadian dollars of an MLS expansion franchise) soccer will be around in 25 years.

That got a rise out of CFL commissioner Mark Cohon who was in town yesterday for meetings on Parliament Hill and took time out to issue an open letter to the citizens of Ottawa and do a media tour to challenge Melnyk's view.

Nothing like some back-and-forth at the weigh-in.

"What I'm concerned about is misinformation and as the steward of this league, I need to tell the citizens and the council members here what the facts are about the CFL and that's why I wrote the open letter to the citizens of Ottawa," said Cohon.

Standing in the cold drizzle outside Frank Clair Stadium, Cohon dismissed the challenge soccer presents to the health of the CFL.

"I've worked for Major League Baseball and the NBA. There are more kids playing soccer in the United States now. That hasn't changed the strength of Major League Baseball or the NBA. It's the same sort of thing here," he said.

"There are a lot of young kids who play soccer. We want this facility for them, as well.

"I don't think it's a debate between soccer and football. I think it's a debate about what's right for the city in terms of creating a facility that's good for the community."

"I think that's a disservice to the citizens of Ottawa," said Cohon of the Melnyk position.

I agree. I think by keeping the football/soccer option open for Lansdowne, the Hunt group is taking the high ground against Melnyk's "pick one" stance.

That's a pretty big, basic, philosophical difference between the two proposals.

Now, with the rules perhaps laid out today, we should be able to start getting into the details.


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