‘Ottawa’ Soccer Club Will Pay For Replacing Turf it Added to City Park
The city says an Ottawa soccer club will have to pay for the eventual removal or replacement of the artificial turf it put down at a public park.
The City of Ottawa has produced an amended agreement with Ottawa South United Soccer Association after Postmedia reported that city staff allowed the club to construct a fenced-in training facility at George Nelms Sports Park, just south of Manotick last fall.
Despite its presence in a public park, the facility is for the exclusive use of OSU players.
While the presence of the private facility raised questions about whether the city would be left holding the bag for costs down the road, the newly released amended deal puts that onus back on the soccer club.
While only released to Postmedia on Thursday, the deal was “made effective” April 20, 2016, according to the document.
OSU is a large south-end soccer club that encompasses four city wards within its catchment.
It has touted its investment in community soccer pitches and said it believes the new field was necessary to address the pressures it has faced in securing top-quality practice and game fields within the city. It has stressed that the club paid for the installation of the $1.5 million facility, and says it uses the field for tournaments as well as training.
The wrinkle is that the City of Ottawa owns the field on which the facility was built. It bought the 32-acre property for $1.3 million from Centaurus Partnership, a business group affiliated with OSU, in 2010. The agreement gave OSU exclusive use of two fields within the park, as well as the right of first refusal to the other four soccer fields on the property, at no additional cost to the club.
The 2010 purchase agreement also included a clause spelling out the city’s responsibilities as they pertain to the two fields to which OSU has exclusive access.
“The City shall be responsible, at its sole cost and expense … for the life-cycle replacement of the turf on Fields 1 & 2,” reads the Land Acquisition Agreement from July 2010.
The agreement made no mention of a $1.5-million artificial surface or other improvements OSU would later make at the site. The decision to allow the construction was made by the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department, which has “delegated authority” from city council to make decisions on the city’s behalf.
(Those “delegated authority” powers fell under scrutiny over another matter in May, when the department approved construction of a massive playground project at Mooney’s Bay Park through a partnership with Sinking Ship Entertainment.)
“They wanted to upgrade from a natural grass field to an artificial turf field and did so on their own dime, which is right since they are the only ones using it,” said Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, speaking about the George Nelms Sports Park work by OSU.
“Since they have playing rights to that field, it really is of no interest to the city whether they are playing on grass or artificial turf if they want to use their own funds to upgrade the field,” he said. “It provides a longer season, better play and it takes the pressure off other soccer fields, because it can be used more intensively. They talked to us about it and we didn’t see any reason to deny the request.”
When reached by Postmedia, Rick O’Connor, city clerk and solicitor, declined to comment when asked what responsibilities Ottawa taxpayers will have for the facility come 2025, when the artificial grass surface will require replacing.
“With respect, I am unable to provide a response to this inquiry as to do so may contravene solicitor-client privilege,” said O’Connor in an emailed statement.
However, after numerous Postmedia requests to city staff to explain the city’s liability on the issue, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department released a statement saying it has come to a “proposed amendment” with OSU on the issue. The city said the amendment will change the original agreement between the city and OSU.
“The OSU, at its expense, shall replace the artificial turf at the end of the manufacturer recommended lifecycle and warrantee period, or earlier as required during the term of this agreement,” reads the proposed amendment with OSU.
“The OSU agrees that at the end of the agreement, subject to review and approval by the City, and in accordance with City Standards, OSU shall, at its cost, be required to reinstate the artificial turf field to its previous state (natural grass sportsfield). The OSU further agrees that if reinstatement is not required by the City, the artificial turf field shall become property of the City, without payment or compensation to OSU.”
Artificial turf fields are typically only good for between eight and 10 years. OSU’s exclusivity agreement with the city as it pertains to George Nelms Park ends in 2025.
OSU bulldozed Field 1 on the 32-acre property last fall, taking away topsoil and bringing in loads of aggregate and sand to build the base for the artificial turf. A six-foot-tall fence and lights were erected around the property and a new parking lot installed. The city has agreed to pay for 50 per cent of the parking lot, with OSU paying the rest.
Permits for fields 1 and 2 at George Nelms are automatically assigned to OSU in January. The club pays no additional fees — or taxes since it no longer owns the land — to the city for using the park.