Two levels of reality check for those who believe Ottawa should immediately build a soccer-only stadium, slamming the door on the CFL in the nation’s capital.
(ASIDE from the fact that it makes zero economic sense to publically finance a stadium – in a bad and worsening economy – and even less to build one that cannot accommodate what could be a major, contributing pro sports franchise if the right owners were ever found.)
1) This idiotic idea walks the night – now that MLS commission Don Garber has said Ottawa would get a team if it built a park – that the city must now choose between CFL and MLS. Never mind that there was already a CFL move afoot – and a conditional franchise already issued! – backed by Ottawa 67s owner Jeff Hunt, before Senators’ cheque-writer Eugene Melnyk came riding out of nowhere preaching the economic supremacy of MLS soccer.
I want to take you back into recent Toronto history. As Hoggtown edged into the mid-1990s, Maple Leaf Gardens was dying a slow, wracking death, and everybody knew it. The Maple Leafs came thundering down the hillsides, proclaiming they would build a new and immortal Palais d’Sport – at Union Station. Union Station!!
Along about this time, Toronto was in line for an NBA expansion franchise, which soon became the Raptors. Rather than waiting around for the Leafs – or even be accepted by them, which wasn’t looking likely – the uppity NBAers broke ground for an arena of their own at the old central post office – directly behind Union Station!
For a few ridiculous months, it looked like Toronto was going to get two gleaming new arenas – side by side. Eventually, sanity prevailed. The station told the Leafs to narf off, the NHL team bought into the NBA building, blueprints were fiddled with, and soon we had – and still have – the Air Canada Centre.
If that can happen in Toronto, a way can – and must – be found to accommodate both the reborn Rough Riders and FC Melnyk Happy-Pants.
2) Location. Melnyk wants to build his soccer stadium/20,000-seat concert facility in Kanata, right next door to his hockey arena/20,000-seat concert facility in Kanata. Hunt wants to renovate and redevelop the lovely and historic Lansdowne Park site on the leafy banks of the Rideau Canal. The two visions couldn’t be more different.
In the spirit of compromise, now there’s a third. Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien (thanks to reader ChrisB for flagging this) told today’s edition of the Ottawa Business Journal he wants to build “a major league stadium” in a barren, begging-for-it west Ottawa wasteland called LeBreton Flats.
If you’re not familiar with it (I certainly wasn’t until I played three music tours of Ottawa in the past year and a half), it sits on the south shore of the Ottawa River on the way from downtown to Kanata. There is nothing whatsoever at all there – except a major transit interchange. Good so far, right?
This is where Ottawa’s high-speed busway crosses what passes locally for urban heavy rail, the grand and glorious O-Train. Now, I’m somewhat of an amateur expert on urban mass transit. (I’ll spare you my qualifications, unless you really want me to bang out a multi-page e-mail and inflict it on you privately.)
The O-Train is the stupidest, most pointless bit of big-money rail these disbelieving eyes have ever seen. It runs just five stations, linking two arms of the city’s extensive bus network. It uses an old railway right-of-way that is so narrow, there is only room for one track. A second track exists – only briefly – to allow trains to pass each other at Carleton University, the midpoint of the line. It then reverts to single-track, down to its southern terminus.
That means – may I have a drumroll of the doomed, please? – the total capacity of the entire O-Train system is two trains. Two very glitzy, expensive trains, it must be fairly said. But as a way of feeding or draining a stadium? They’d have been far better to rip up the tracks and build a twin-deck bus lane. The track cannot be widened, by the way, without gigantic new digging and property expropriation.
Oh, and Mayor O’Brien is also spouting the myth that the city will have to choose between Canadian football and world football, which no doubt is adding to the confusion of otherwise clever, sensible people who suddenly believe this bilge-piffle, and are passing it on like it’s the Only Way Forward.
Okay, LeBreton Flats is a political compromise, and will likely die the death. That still leaves us with one stadium and two sports. And given that neither MLS or the CFL has made a real, binding commitment to Bytown, we might all be getting way, way out ahead of ourselves anyhow.
To me there’s a simple, smart solution:
Put a stadium plan in motion – and don’t choose one sport over the other. Heck, BMO Field in Toronto was originally going to be a CFL/MLS park, until the Argonauts got snaky and slithered back to SkyDome. Do NOT give in to hype, do NOT get distracted by warring potential owners, (do NOT build a stadium on the O-Train).
Above all, do NOT let a whispered kiss from MLS commissioner Don Garber slam the CFL out of whatever park you build, wherever in Ottawa-Carleton-Gatineau it may end up.
This story’s already quite crazy enough, without taking an irreversible plunge into utter selfish corporate madness – exactly the kind of madness currently being refuted and punished by an ever-worsening global economic meltdown.
The only other solution is for Melnyk or Hunt to build with their own money. At that point, two stadiums are possible, if still very silly.
Feel free to refute ANY of that, folks.