Lansdowne’s bold vision is complete 57
It was a big party with music, children releasing butterflies and confetti shot out of a cannon, presided over by politicians and businessmen with deep pockets, smack dab in the middle of what was once an embarrassing eyesore.
But, with a subtle middle finger to the well-intended, but troublemaking Friends of Lansdowne who tried to scuttle the revitalization project before the first shovel could move dirt, the 40-acre park is now officially live, a grand creation with plenty of substance and pizzazz.
With 150 kindergarten and Grade 1 Hopewell School children watching, what was once a dream, a bold vision by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, is now very real, a city within a city and a world-class destination that Ottawa can be proud of.
It’s a melding of history — there have been Grey Cups and Stanley Cups won on the grounds and there were coronations for political heavyweights like William Lyon MacKenzie King and John Diefenbaker — and what is yet to come for Ottawa.
“Lansdowne in the past had such a wonderful history, but it was really allowed to deteriorate,” said Mayor Jim Watson, who, along with former Mayor Larry O’Brien, deserves plenty of credit for making this rebirth happen.
“Almost every second year we had to tear down another building because it was condemned. We couldn’t go on the second floor of the coliseum building because it was condemned. The asphalt wasn’t even properly maintained. There was virtually no greenspace. It was a sad chapter, the last four or five years of Lansdowne.
“I was the councillor here for six years. I remember when the Aberdeen was a real eyesore. The windows were shot out. There were about a thousand pigeons living in it, you couldn’t go in without a mask. To see the old and the new come together, it’s a very proud moment.
“Even those people who didn’t agree with Lansdowne, many of them have come up to me and they’re pretty proud themselves. It’s really nice to be able to turn the switch on and see the rich history come to life in a much more respectable fashion.” The folks from OSEG pulled out all the stops Friday for what’s been an amazing transformation that’s seen a state-of-the-art movie theatre, restaurants, bars, shops, a fitness club, a children’s playground, an apple orchard, a skateboard park, a farmer’s market, a great lawn, a stadium and an arena turn Lansdowne into one of Ottawa’s hotspots. It’s a home for the RedBlacks, the Fury, the 67’s and a place that can bring in supergroups like AC/DC.
“While we’ve opened our stadium and we opened the arena last fall and retailers have been slowly coming onstream, we really want everyone in Ottawa to know we’re open for business,” said OSEG CEO Bernie Ashe.
“This is the time to come, summer’s here. This is the realization of that whole dream of what this place was going to be like — a fun place, a party place, now it’s here.
“It exceeded my expectations. I grew up in this city. When I see people here at night, on the patios and as we’ve been celebrating FIFA this past couple of weeks, this is just fantastic.”
“There was lots of back and forth on what to do with Lansdowne,” said Watson.
“We landed on a project and we’ve seen it to completion and I think it’s an amazing destination.
“We opened last year partially. Now we have the restaurants open, the shops, we just finished the sod on the great lawn last week. It’s really come together. It’s a place you can come and either have a meal, go see a movie or have a picnic on the lawn. It’s a real urban oasis in the city and it replaces acres and acres of run-down buildings and asphalt. It’s a wonderful metamorphosis, just as we saw the butterflies go up. It starts off a little bit ugly and then it blossoms.”
THE LANSDOWNE FACTS
WHERE: 40-acre site, located off Bank St, along the Rideau Canal
WHAT: Has become a destination, with a Lansdowne Live feel. There’s a 10-screen movie theatre, shops, a fitness centre, restaurants, bars, a 24,000-seat soccer/football stadium, a 9,000-plus seat arena, a water plaza, a children’s play area, a Great Lawn, an orchard, a skating pad, a basketball court, skateboarding ramps, the Horticulture Building, the Aberdeen Pavilion and so much more. There are 280 residential units and 360,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.
THE HISTORY: Grey Cups and Stanley Cups have been won there, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Genesis, Supertramp and Johnny Cash have played there, William Lyon MacKenzie King, John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau were named leaders of their political parties there, the first Canadian demonstration of the telephone was done there and it was a training ground for Canadian troops. Oh, and CFL teams have come and gone and come and gone and come again. The city acquired the site and its buildings in 1883 for $25,000.