Ottawa's attempt to score a Major League Soccer franchise could come down to what kind of "football" residents would watch and whether they want their tax money to pay for a stadium.
Eugene Melnyk's plan to build a $110-million soccer stadium near Scotiabank Place, and inking the partnerships to build it, appears to be a deal maker -- or breaker -- for MLS executives, who are deciding which two North American cities will be awarded a franchise to start play in 2011.
During a news conference yesterday at Scotiabank Place, Melnyk and MLS commissioner Don Garber described "positive" meetings this week with Mayor Larry O'Brien, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ottawa West-Nepean MP John Baird.
"If Ottawa is awarded an expansion team, our league needs to know that there will be a stadium for that team to play in," Garber said. "It has been a key part of our discussions. We can't come here unless we have a stadium."
Melnyk is committing a substantial investment for a franchise, but the Senators owner said he needs backing to make it happen.
"We do need all three levels of government to support this," Melnyk said, adding his staff are crunching the numbers to see how much money is needed from secondary sources to build the multi-field entertainment facility.
The city is also mulling a proposal from a group led by 67's owner Jeff Hunt to redevelop Lansdowne Park for a CFL franchise awarded conditionally. That team could start play as early as 2010.
Melnyk, meanwhile, is relying on a large base of soccer players in the Ottawa area and his success with the Senators as selling points for government to support his bid.
Ottawa is competing with Vancouver, Portland, St. Louis and Miami for an MLS franchise. The league wants to make an announcement by the start of the 2009 season in March, although Garber said the timeline is flexible.
Ottawa was the last of the proposed expansion cities for MLS representatives to visit.
Garber said he has no concerns with a soccer stadium being built in Kanata, especially since there is plenty of land to build a large facility that could host other soccer tournaments and concerts.
The commissioner wouldn't say if the league wants a Canadian city to win one of the two franchises, or if both Ottawa and Vancouver could be successful, or if both could lose out for 2011.
However, both Melnyk and Garber, who arrived at Scotiabank Place in a helicopter, predicted that a MLS franchise will come to Ottawa. It's just a question of when.
The league has 15 clubs to start the 2009 season, its 14th, with Philadelphia joining in 2010.