Ottawa may be stuck with stadium tab

SHANE ROSS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:58 AM ET

A $100-million "red flag" was raised yesterday over the open-air stadium debate: Who will pay for it?

Councillors were shocked to learn there is no commitment from the provincial and federal governments to share in the cost of a stadium, and that any money given to the city may have to compete with other infrastructure projects such as rapid transit.

"It's certainly a significant challenge when you have a stadium competing against water and sewer projects. We need to know where the public stands on all of those," said Coun. Peter Hume, chairman of the city's planning committee. "Do they want us to delay our public transit program to invest in a new stadium? I think the answer to that would be no. This is a significant twist in this interesting saga of a new open-air stadium for the City of Ottawa."

City manager Kent Kirkpatrick dropped the bombshell at a planning committee meeting in which he formally tabled an $81,000 report by Corporate Research Group that assessed the needs of a sports stadium and ranked 23 potential sites.

DESIGN COMPETITION

Two unsolicited proposals were submitted to the city after the report was commissioned in August, one to renovate Frank Clair Stadium as part of a redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, the other to build a stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise adjacent to Scotiabank Place.

Both proposals call for roughly $100 million in public money it was believed would be shared among all three levels of government.

"I do not believe that there is a pot of funds that exists separate over and above other infrastructure funding from senior government that is available simply because we have an opportunity to invest in an open-air stadium. We should be viewing both proposals as if all the money going into them is all city funding," Kirkpatrick said.

Council must assess the value the stadium proposals have for the city, Kirkpatrick said, "because they're not competing between themselves, they are competing with every other infrastructure investment priority this council has."

Hume said with the "massive amounts of funds available" for municipal infrastructure in the government stimulus packages, "a number of us made the assumption we would be able to access a discrete fund such as the P3 fund for the stadium and it would not compete against other projects."

He also noted that both stadium proponents "have indicated they have had discussions with both levels of government and this limitation has never come up."

Asked if that makes the stadium a non-starter, Hume replied, "it is a big red flag that we may not have $100-million to spend on a new stadium. A lukewarm response from the provincial and federal government to a new stadium means that Ottawa taxpayers would bear all of that burden."

MAKE A DECISION

The planning committee is scheduled to review the CRG report on March 10 before presenting it to council on March 11. A staff report on the two stadium proposals is scheduled to go before council on March 25. After public consultation, council is supposed to make a decision on April 22, but it is doubtful that will happen as long as the funding is uncertain.

In the meantime, Kirkpatrick said he will continue to communicate with the provincial and federal governments to try to resolve that issue.


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