Faceoff could put 67's at risk

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

Our stadium debate is not as simple as football vs. soccer, downtown or the suburbs.

What happens to the Ottawa 67's -- our most successful significant sports franchise over the past 25 years if you're counting championships -- if the decision is made to build an outdoor stadium somewhere other than Lansdowne Park?

"We're fighting for our lives, for the 67's future," said 67's owner Jeff Hunt yesterday, who's got a lot at stake here. He is also the frontman for the group bidding to bring a CFL team to a revitalized Lansdowne Park, which includes the 67's home, the Civic Centre.

The Civic Centre's roof is the north stands of Frank Clair Stadium. It's pretty simple -- no Frank Clair Stadium, no Civic Centre.

The Hunt group, which includes blue-chip developers William Shenkman, Roger Greenberg and Bill Ruddy, is competing with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who wants to build a soccer-specific stadium as home to a Major Leage Soccer expansion franchise adjacent to Scotiabank Place, for control of the national capital's sports and entertainment landscape.

$80M INVESTMENT

Both groups also are proposing to build a supporting environment, including restaurants and other attractions, for each facility. Each group is looking for an investment of about $80 million from the various levels of government.

Hunt said he couldn't see a scenario where the Civic Centre would continue to exist at Lansdowne Park without Frank Clair Stadium.

"Given they're joined at the hip, the problem extends to the Civic Centre. The 67's are in serious jeopardy if the city makes the decision to build an outdoor stadium somewhere (other than Lansdowne Park), " said Hunt.

If the Melnyk proposal was to carry the day and Lansdowne developed without a football stadium or Civic Centre, moving the 67's to Melnyk's Scotiabank Place, the home of the Senators, isn't a viable option in Hunt's mind.

"I think there are a lot of serious obstacles to being successful at Scotiabank Place for us," said Hunt. "Obviously, it's a tremendous building. We average 8,000 fans a game which would look terrible in a building like Scotiabank Place. They say empty seats beget empty seats."

There's also the issue of accessibility for 67's fans. Hunt said surveys have indicated 40% of the 67's fan base is from Orleans and he thinks the trek to the west end would deter some of those fans from attending games at Scotiabank Place. "We have fans in Kanata, too, but a huge percentage of our fans are from the east and central parts of the city," said Hunt.

Also, I think it would just be human nature for a guy like Hunt not to want anything to do with the opponent who won the stadium battle.

Of course, a victory by the Melnyk camp doesn't mean the end of the Ontario Hockey League in Ottawa.

Melnyk owns the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors of the OHL. If Hunt decided he didn't want to own the 67's in this market without a venue to his liking, it's not out of the question Melnyk could try and buy them from Hunt and move them into Scotiabank Place.

Hunt's a businessman, but do you do business with the guy who just put you out of business? More likely hewould sell them to somebody else who would either move the 67's to another market or try running them out of Scotiabank Place.

If it's option A and the 67's were to leave town, Melnyk could move his OHL franchise into Scotiabank Place.

With Memorial Cup victories in 1984 and right here in 1999, the 67's have given this city some of its brightest sports moments. Would our city be poorer without them?

No question.

The future of the 67's and the OHL in Ottawa is yet another piece of the stadium debate which needs to be considered by council.

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THE NUMBERS

Sens owner Eugene Melnyk is proposing a soccer stadium/entertainment district in Kanata. It would feature:

- 900,000-1.5 million sq.-ft. of office space

- 300,000-500,000 sq.-ft. of retail/entertainment space

- 450 residential units

- 300,000 sq.-m of land

- $120 million for Phase 1; $500 million total price tag

- New parking garage to replace lost parking spaces

- 4 million annual visitors

CHRIS.STEVENSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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