Grey Cup loss can’t spoil ‘great year,’ OSEG boss says

David Sali
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The RedBlacks’ magical Grey Cup run ultimately came up a touchdown short, but not even Edmonton’s late-game comeback could wipe the smile off Bernie Ashe’s face at season’s end.

Crews work to build condos at Lansdowne Park earlier this year.

“We’re all feeling pretty good right now,” the chief executive of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the consortium that owns the city’s Canadian Football League team, said in an interview with OBJ a few days after Ottawa’s heartbreaking championship loss in Winnipeg.

“It was a downer after the game, but I tell you, it’s all sinking in now. It was a really great run and just a great year. We’ve got lots to look forward to.”

The OSEG partners didn’t have much time to sit back and reflect on the RedBlacks’ miraculous turnaround from expansion team doormats to title contenders, however. On Dec. 1, chairman Roger Greenberg was at Ottawa City Hall, where the first annual report of the Lansdowne Limited Partnership, a 30-year agreement between OSEG and the city, was presented to the finance and economic development committee.

The report made waves for revealing that the city no longer expects to turn a profit on the Lansdowne Park project, thanks mainly to higher-than-expected repair costs at TD Place arena.

OSEG is also forecasting a lower net return.

The group says it now expects a net profit of only $4.9 million over the life of the partnership, down from its original projection of $13.4 million. The organization says it posted a net loss of $10.9 million in 2014, the first year the Redblacks and North American Soccer League’s Fury FC took the field at TD Place stadium.

OSEG says it expects to generate $109.7 million more in net revenues over the next three decades than it originally projected in 2102, thanks to higher lease rates for its retail properties, higher CFL broadcast revenues and more money from naming rights and ticket fees.

However, the organization has had to fork over $53.6 million more than expected for capital expenses, including an additional $23.6 million needed to repair rust and other problems at TD Place arena and $20 million in unforeseen retail construction costs.

Overall, OSEG expects to earn $115.4 million and invest $110.5 million over the 30 years of the agreement, compared with its original 2012 estimates of $69.7 million in earnings and $56.3 million in investments.

The city, meanwhile, says its original profit projection of $22.6 million will be wiped out by the unexpected repair costs at the arena.

Mr. Ashe said while the news that the city wouldn’t be seeing any profit from the arrangement grabbed all the headlines, it obscured the fact Ottawa taxpayers are gaining a “valuable asset” at the completely revamped Lansdowne Park. He noted that OSEG is pumping a minimum of $1.5 million a year into a capital reserve fund to ensure Lansdowne’s buildings are maintained to a high standard.

“Based on the response from (the committee), we think they got that picture,” he said. “They understand where we’re coming from.”

Also on Dec. 1, the two sides settled their dispute over the arena repairs, endorsing a tentative proposal that will see OSEG take out a loan to cover the costs of the repairs. The city will guarantee the loan, allowing OSEG to get a more favourable interest rate.

Mr. Ashe said a long, drawn-out battle over who foots the $23.6-million bill would not have benefited anyone in the long run.

“It was really a collaboration and two partners agreed on a pretty clever settlement,” he said of the deal, which must be approved by city council. “Under all scenarios, this is better for the taxpayers.”

OSEG says it has created 286 full-time jobs higher than its original estimate of 220 and 1,599 part-time positions at Lansdowne. Retailers, meanwhile, have created 367 full-time and 680 part-time jobs.

According to the report, Lansdowne’s 350,000-square-foot retail component is now 91 per cent leased. Fifty-three per cent of those stores, services and restaurants are deemed to be new or unique in the market, a higher share than the 40 per cent called for in the original retail strategy.

As for Lansdowne’s residential component, OSEG also says all 78 units at the site’s signature condo development, Vibe, have been sold, while 12 of the 155 units at the nearby Rideau condo are still available. All 47 units at Holmwood Towns have been purchased.

Minto Properties, which manages the five-storey, 100,000-square-foot office building at the site, says it expects the facility to be fully leased within the next year. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority is currently the main tenant.

Mr. Ashe said another bar, the Craft Beer Market, will join the list of retail tenants in early 2016. OSEG’s main goals, he said, are attracting more non-sporting events to Lansdowne and ensuring the public knows the park is open for business 365 days a year.

“Making the site an interesting and dynamic destination on non-event days is a big priority for us right now,” he said. “It’s one thing in the summer when the patios are open and the sun’s shining, but we’re coming into winter and we’ve got to still make it an attraction for people.”

Organizations: Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, Canadian Football League, TD Place Lansdowne Limited Partnership Redblacks and North American Soccer League Minto Properties Registration Authority

Geographic location: Ottawa, Lansdowne Park, Winnipeg TD Place stadium

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