How Ottawa's new trade show space ended up at the airport

Elizabeth Howell and Peter Kovessy
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OSEG partner sole bidder to replace trade show venue displaced by Lansdowne redevelopment

Back in 2009, city council gave the developers proposing to revitalize Lansdowne Park a clear directive: enhance the current trade and consumer show space on the site.

Shenkman Corp.'s Kevin McCrann. (Photo by Peter Kovessy)

But when the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group came back with its detailed plans a few months later, its members said that wasn't possible if the city wanted more green space.

However, one of the developers had a $40-million solution.

In the fall of 2009, Shenkman Corp. met with the Ottawa International Airport Authority and negotiated an agreement that gave the developer a year to formalize a lease for land off Uplands Drive, according to city documents.

At the same time, Shenkman met with representatives from the trade show industry as it prepared a business case to construct a new facility, with financial help from the municipality.

City council first directed Shenkman to submit a formal proposal, after which it would ask if any other developers were interested. But city officials changed their mind and, in early 2010, published a request for proposals, giving all qualified proponents two months to make their pitch.

By that point, Shenkman was already well into negotiations with the airport to lease 33 acres of land, according to a city report published at the time. The RFP contained specifications that were largely based on requirements provided by the Ottawa Association of Exposition Managers to Shenkman the previous summer.

The developer's top executive was closely involved in talks with the city as the project moved forward, according to one observer.

"Virtually every meeting that we had with (city manager) Kent Kirkpatrick at city hall was attended by (Shenkman president) Kevin McCrann," explained OAEM president Michael Rodgers about how the new trade show space came to fruition.

When the bidding process closed, city officials only had one option on the table: Shenkman's.

City councillor Steve Desroches found the lack of competing bids curious, according to the minutes of a city council meeting. Mr. McCrann said he was also surprised.

"When we found out we were the only bidder, it was a double-edged sword. Great, we won it, but oh my God, nobody else wanted to win it," said Mr. McCrann.

Work on the 220,000-square-feet facility proceeded rapidly over the course of 2011 - so fast, in fact, that politicians had to rebrand the stereotypical sod-turning ceremony as a "steel-erecting ceremony," even though more than half of the girders were already in place when dignitaries and the media gathered at the construction site on a scorching day in June.

The city made a one-time contribution of $8.5 million to the deal. Shenkman, in concert with minority investors Richcraft and Trinity Developments, agreed to finance at least $8.5 million. The remainder of the $40-million cost came through debt financing.

David S. McRobie Architects designed the space, which has up to 150,000 square feet available for shows. Ruiter Construction was the general contractor.

Now that the project is finishing up, contracts will shift to a number of "service partners" in the centre. These include Capital Security and Investigations as well as Prestige Rental. Some were selected through competitive requests for proposals, but Shenkman asked for others directly.

Part of it was based upon Shenkman's experience operating Mississauga's International Centre, also located close to an airport and featuring some of the same service providers.

"We went through a pretty vigorous interview process with them. We looked at ones to serve the market and grow those events, really based on a service standard," said Josh Zaret, general manager of the CE Centre.

Set to open Dec. 27 with a concert from electronica performer Deadmau5, the CE Centre fulfils many items on OAEM's wish list, such as pillar-free space and ceilings high enough for trucks to directly bring equipment inside.

The group was a vocal advocate for the new space's construction, saying the different buildings at Lansdowne hindered the industry's ability to grow.

Now, some OAEM members are starting to launch new shows, and Mr. Rodgers hopes his member organizations - which reported generating more than $17.6 million in direct economic activity at Lansdowne Park in 2009 - are recognized as an important sector.

"Our industry flies under the radar; people look at it as a handful of events once or twice a year. They really don't appreciate ... (its) deep and widespread effect."

UPCOMING EVENTS

• Dec. 27, 2011: Pulse Ottawa featuring Deadmau5

• Jan. 13-15, 2012: Ottawa International Motorcycle Show

• Jan. 20-22: The Home Renovations Show

• Jan. 28-29: The Ottawa Wedding Show

• Feb. 15: Green Trade Expo

• Feb. 23-26: Ottawa Boat & Sportsmen's Show

SERVICE PARTNERS

The following companies work within the CE Centre. Some of the contracts were awarded through a competitive request for proposals, while others were directly sourced.

• Ability Janitorial Services Ltd.

• AV-CANADA

• Capital Security and Investigations

• D.E. Systems

• Freeman (official show services partner)

• Freeman Electrical Services

• Great Canadian Plates

• Gunn Media Group

• Prestige Rental

Source: CE Centre

SPACIOUS SHOWS

Top events at Lansdowne Park in 2009,

and rental revenue generated

Ottawa Boat & Sportsmen's Show ($120,351)

Ottawa Home & Garden Show ($113,416)

CANSEC ($92,421)

Ottawa Valley Farm Show ($84,484)

Samko & Miko Toy Warehouse ($77,438)

Source: HLT Advisory Inc.

TIMELINE

April 2009: Council calls for enhanced trade and show space at Lansdowne Park as part of the redevelopment of the area.

June 2009: The Ottawa Association of Exposition Managers prepares an overview of the exposition industry at Lansdowne Park. It expresses concern about how construction at Lansdowne would affect the trade show industry, calling the facility "the economic backbone of the consumer and trade show sector in Ottawa." The report calls for an analysis of the trade show sector and the expansion of the city's existing exhibition space.

November 2009: After OSEG declares green space requirements at Lansdowne leave no room for a trade show facility, Ottawa's city council approves a motion to direct staff to solicit requests of interest for constructing, operating and financing one outside of Lansdowne Park. Shenkman Corp.'s proposal must be submitted through this process, the city states.

February 2010: Council approves starting the request for proposals process, which closes in May. Shenkman's is the only submission.

June 2010: Shenkman Corp. begins negotiating an agreement with the city to construct, operate and finance the new trade show facility.

October 2010: Zoning for the facility is approved, paving the way for construction.

June 2011: More than 90 per cent of Lansdowne's consumer and trade shows have agreed to host their events at the CE Centre, officials say.

Dec. 27, 2011: CE Centre to open.

Sources: City of Ottawa, OBJ archives, media reports

Organizations: Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, OAEM, Ottawa International Airport Authority CE Centre Capital Security Ruiter Construction International Centre Ability Janitorial Services D.E. Systems Freeman Electrical Services Gunn Media Group HLT Advisory

Geographic location: Ottawa Valley, Lansdowne Park, June.The Mississauga

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