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Another Rebuild: What Does Lansdowne 2.0 Mean for Ottawa Sports Fans?

 

Sometimes it feels like Ottawa’s professional sports teams are in a perpetual state of rebuild. For example, both the Senators and REDBLACKS have recently been reconstructing their rosters, diligently trying to make their way back into the playoffs.

But in a more literal sense, the city’s two biggest franchises always seem to be keeping half an eye on rebuilding their home facilities. A few times every year, there’s a new headline about the Senators being in or out of the mix for a new arena at LeBreton Flats. And now Lansdowne Park, home of the REDBLACKS, 67s, Atletico and Blackjacks, is about to get another major face lift – just eight years after the last one was completed.

Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) unveiled their Lansdowne 2.0 proposal back in April, partnering once again with the City of Ottawa. On Wednesday (June 8th), City Council gave the proposal the green light in principle. The estimated total cost for the project will be a tidy $332 million. It’ll be funded through the sale of air rights and debt funding, along with some City capital budget funding for internal costs.

City of Ottawa staff will now begin a full study, which will include opportunities for public feedback. With a municipal election this fall, the final decision will rest with the next term of Council. But if things go as planned, construction on the new arena/event centre could begin by the end of the year.

Goodbye Ottawa Civic Centre: A New Home For the 67s and Blackjacks

The first phase of their new game plan includes destruction of the 55-year-old Ottawa Civic Centre, current home of the Ottawa 67s and Ottawa Blackjacks, to be replaced by a modern 5500-seat event centre that’ll be more functional, accessible and attractive. Early OSEG designs show a classic, sensible, and far more symmetrical design.

 

The replacement is long overdue. Fans at the Civic Centre would often report water leaking or insulation falling from the ceiling. Users would complain about dampness and odor in the locker rooms. And certainly it was no longer meeting the needs of today’s musicians, artists and event organizers.

It wasn’t always this way, of course.

In the mid-60s, Ottawa was about to renovate the Rough Riders’ stadium and during the planning stage, just two miles away, they were also about to tear down the Ottawa Auditorum. The “Aud” had existed from 1923-1967 at Argyle and O’Connor, and was home to the NHL’s original Ottawa Senators until financial problems forced them to move to St. Louis in 1934.

At that time, the City needed a new event centre to replace the Auditorium, so they threw it into the stadium plans at Lansdowne Park, tucking it behind and beneath the new north side construction. This accounts for the unusual low ceiling and large wall on the rink’s south side.

In 1967, Ottawa unveiled the Civic Centre like a crown jewel, a beautiful new facility that went on to host 55 years of great events.

You’d probably throw some fans for a loop if you asked them which hockey team played their first game ever at the Civic Centre. The Senators or the 67s? Well, neither team’s rink was ready on time so the answer is the Senators. The Sens played at the Civic Centre for three and half seasons while the Palladium was being built. The 67s played their first few games in Hull while the Civic Centre was being finished.

Senator fans will always remember the NHL club’s very first game (modern day) in 1992, an improbable victory over the Montreal Canadiens, who later that season, would go on to win the Cup.

The Civic Centre was also the site of Ottawa’s last Memorial Cup victory in 1999, a thrilling 7-6 overtime victory over Calgary in the final.

The arena also hosted:

  • Two short-lived WHA franchises, the Ottawa Nationals and Ottawa Civics.
  • The first-ever Canada Cup hockey game in 1976, when Canada crushed Finland 11-2.
  • The very first Women’s World Hockey Championships in 1990. Canada defeated the United States 5–2 to win the gold medal.
  • Countless other events and some of the world’s biggest artists like U2, The Who, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen.

Soon the building will just be a memory, replaced by a much nicer stand-alone facility to be built just beyond the east end zone, no longer physically connected to the stadium’s north side stands. And speaking of which…

Apparently the North Side Now Actually Does Suck

The stadium’s current north side stands are not in great shape, long past their best before date. In phase two of the project, the north side will also be destroyed and rebuilt, replaced with a new structure to seat 11-12,000 fans. The artist rendering is a beautiful concept and the whole design is meant to improve function, accessibility and comfort for fans.

There will be some minor inconveniences for fans, with temporary seating during various points in construction. Another change fans will notice immediately (based on the artist rendering) is the lack of a roof. Frankly, that’s extremely common in stadiums across North America but it will be an adjustment for North Siders who are used to having some degree of shelter from the rain and sun.

Fans on the south side will naturally have a different view, that also includes three new residential high-rise buildings, towering over the facility. It’s difficult to imagine any complaints on that front, especially since South Siders already believe, based on decades of in-game chanting, that the “North Side Sucks.”

If the public feedback is favourable, and the new City Council and OSEG remain on the same page, the first phase of the latest Lansdowne renos could begin by the end of this year and be completed by 2025. The stadium phase of the project could be underway by 2025 and be ready for its grand opening in 2027.

Meanwhile, Ottawa sports fans continue to look forward to the day when all these shiny new rebuilds are ready to enjoy.

By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine

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