Still a full three years from the first coin toss, Ottawa is returning to the CFL because it’s going to throw some money into a new stadium.
City council’s vote Monday night to go ahead with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group’s plans for a rejuvenation of Lansdowne Park means the “conditional” tag on a CFL franchise for the national capital appears to be now hanging by a thread.
All the league wanted before officially welcoming OSEG into the fraternity was assurance a new home for the team would was be built. With a 15-9 yes vote by council, that assurance was declared.
“It’s a great day for Ottawa sports,” said Jeff Hunt, who forms OSEG with fellow businessmen Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy and William Shenkman. “Our city is really growing up with this decision to build what I think will be the envy of the country when it comes to outdoor stadiums.”
Shovels are tentatively scheduled to hit the ground next June, said Hunt, and that should be plenty of time to have the proposed 24,000-seat facility ready for the football team to start the 2013 season. Hunt also expects to pick up pursuit of a pro soccer team for the 2013 or 2014 North American Soccer League season.
“For 2˝ years, I had doubts we’d ever pull this off,” said Hunt. “I always felt it was a great solution for a big problem, but that didn’t mean we were going to be successful (in making it a reality.) I think this project has evolved very positively over those 2˝ years.”
There appear to be a minimal number of political hurdles left to clear, other than the finalizing and signing of the agreement. That leaves Hunt to start focusing on a deal with the league on an expansion draft, coming up with a name for the team and hiring a GM.
“We can now begin in earnest to start taking the next steps,” said Hunt. “For me, we’re getting closer and closer to what I consider the fun stuff, all the stuff that’s been in the least-of-our-worries category until now.”
Hunt said there was currently “no set plan” as to how the issue of naming the team would be resolved. The search for a football operations boss will be done deliberately and carefully.
“We believe that we have to have a GM in place a minimum of one year (before the first game),” said Hunt. “It’s nice to be able to have a lot of time to get the right guy.
“I think the amount of time we have to prepare both on and off the field is a huge asset. We’ve got lots of time to get this right.”
Hunt has had plenty of praise for his partners throughout the process.
“They have been tremendous,” he said.
“Although the sports community may not be as familiar with these guys as the business community, these are exactly the kind of owners Ottawa has been desperate for. These guys really get it, and they’ll do all the necessary things to ensure the team is a success on and off the field.”
While there is no set date for the next Grey Cup Game in Ottawa, Hunt pointed out that “at least it will be in our lifetime, which was no certainty before (Monday).”
“I think we’d want to be several years in before we host a game, because naturally, like every host, we want to be a candidate to be in the game,” he said. “We’d want a few years to make that more possible.”