Melnyk makes Major play

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

Over to you, Jeff Hunt.

Now, after Senators owner Eugene Melnyk revealed his vision for soccer and a new stadium in Kanata yesterday, we have a situation where we have battling bids to take stewardship of Ottawa's sports landscape for at least the next generation.

Hunt, the 67's owner, is the front man for the respected group of local businessmen who have already secured a conditional CFL franchise and are proposing to re-energize Frank Clair Stadium and Lansdowne Park in conjunction with the city. They are expected to reveal their vision for a new stadium with retail support on the downtown Lansdowne Park site before the end of the month.

We've got one group that has a stadium plan, but needs a team, and one that has a team, but needs a stadium.

In a perfect world, they would all get together, fix up Lansdowne Park and have a vibrant new facility with two strong tenants on an amazing site in the easily accessible downtown core.

That's what I would like to see.

After yesterday's developments, there's fat chance of that happening.

Melnyk's bold play yesterday is a blatant broadside at the Hunt group, an attempt to cut them off at the pass.

Cyril Leeder, the Senators' chief operating officer, said: "We want to provide the city with another option to consider what to do about Frank Clair and Lansdowne and future plans for a stadium in our community."

Said Hunt yesterday after the Melnyk announcement: "This changes nothing. We've been in this process for over a year and we believe we'll bring an exciting proposal to the city."

Yesterday's announcement escalated what will now be an all-out battle for the hearts and minds of public and civic officials for which group and its plan is best for the future of Ottawa's sporting landscape.

MAKE BUCK OR TWO

There's one thing just about everybody has to agree upon, even the most leftist of the sandal-with-socks-wearing socialists in our midst: Our city needs a new, fresh gathering point for sports and cultural events. The capital city of a country like ours deserves nothing less.

We're fortunate to have entrepreneurs like Melnyk and the Hunt group (Roger Greenberg, John Ruddy and William Shenkman) who are willing to foot most of the bill in exchange for the chance to maybe make a buck or two down the road. There's nothing wrong with that as long as the public interest is protected and it's a win-win for both sides.

In what might have been the most interesting revelation yesterday at Melnyk's announcement, it was revealed his proposal would also require the involvement of the city since the proposed site of the $100-million stadium -- south of Palladium Dr., just east of Scotiabank Place -- is a 38-acre parcel of land owned by the city. (An aside: It's currently a snow dump, which is what the site of the baseball stadium was in a previous life.) Sources indicated Melnyk would like to see the city donate the land, valued at perhaps as much as $10 million.

So, Melnyk will also have to jump through some municipal hoops to make his deal work.

He also faces the considerable challenge of winning an MLS expansion franchise, the lynchpin of his project. He's willing to fork over $40 million to be one of two successful bidders to get franchises for the 2011 season. Without the franchise, there's no point building the stadium.

The Hunt group already has its team, having been granted a one-year conditional franchise by the CFL in the spring.

WILL SOCCER SELL?

Both groups face uncertainty in terms of the viability of their product. Will soccer in Kanata sell (who knows)?

Will the often-jilted Rough Riders/Renegades fans embrace a return of Canadian professional football (probably)?

In both cases, City Hall will ultimately play a deciding role. Melnyk has to submit his expansion proposal by Oct. 15, with the MLS expected to announce the winning bids by late this year or early next. It could get really interesting if Melnyk wins an expansion franchise before the city decides what to do with the Hunt proposal. Does the city then strike a deal for the land for the soccer stadium? What happens to Lansdowne Park and the CFL bid then?

Answers?

We won't even have all the questions until we get to see the Hunt group's proposal for Lansdowne Park and Frank Clair Stadium.


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