U.S.-based group wants deal to run Lansdowne Park.
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, April 28, 2007
The fate of professional football in Ottawa now rests on the desk of Mayor Larry O'Brien.
Bill Palmer, who represents a group of investors looking to return a Canadian Football League franchise to Ottawa, confirmed yesterday that an agreement-in-principle with the league was in place.
"That is accurate," he said from his Indianapolis office.
That includes a whopping franchise fee that is at least $5.5 million, and perhaps more than $6 million, including a non-refundable deposit. That Palmer's investors are willing to foot such a steep price for a franchise suggests they are serious, but the second part of the group's plan involves a deal with the city for use of Frank Clair Stadium.
According to several CFL sources, Palmer's group wants operational control of the stadium, not simply to rent it as a tenant, but also to ensure certain levels of service that the City of Ottawa, the facility's owner, could not provide to previous CFL team owners. It would also mean financial relief, including not having to pay the rent that previous ownership groups paid, which was the most expensive in the CFL.
The owners of the Ottawa Renegades paid no less than $600,000 rent for the 2005 season, which included nine home games, and no more than $850,000 based on the amount of tickets sold.
The city considered that deal "cost recovery." Palmer would not confirm his desire to operate the facility, but did say that much progress had to be made with the city. He has previously said he wants the business affairs for a new team to be up-and-running by the time the eight current CFL clubs open their 2007 training camps next month. The new Ottawa team would take to the field in 2008.
"You've got to put a deal in place that makes sense for both parties," Palmer said. "There are a multitude of issues, but I can't get into them."
Yesterday, neither Palmer nor Walter Robinson, O'Brien's chief of staff, would say whether the sides had met. Robinson said the city was waiting to hear from the CFL and its new commissioner, Mark Cohon, about the league's intentions for Ottawa, but no one had asked for operational control of Lansdowne Park.
During last autumn's election campaign, O'Brien said he would be willing to listen to private groups who presented plans to operate Lansdowne Park.
Earlier this month, he outlined a vision for the facility.
"It could be the 40-acre gem in the heart of our city," O'Brien said in a speech. "However, today, it is best described as Ottawa's largest parking lot with a few buildings, a heritage pavilion and a '60s-era sports stadium on the site. Along with the city's sports fans, I, too, hope that the CFL, with a new commissioner at the helm, will soon advise city hall as to its plans for Ottawa."
O'Brien also said that the park needed more than a pro football team and other annual events to make it viable. He added that he wanted to see "progress" on the file by 2010.
Palmer currently works for a U.S. construction company that specializes in building stadiums and arenas. A former CFL player, he recognizes that most CFL venues do not meet the standards of modern facilities whose amenities include plush luxury suites, jumbo video screens and bucket seating, not benches.
Even by Canadian standards, Frank Clair Stadium at Lansdowne Park is widely viewed as second-rate.
Winnipeg is discussing a new stadium with funding from two levels of government, and Montreal and Regina are engaged in significant projects to improve the infrastructure at their venues. Hamilton has completely revamped archaic Ivor Wynne Stadium, turning it into a place where citizens want to spend time, while Calgary's McMahon Stadium is superbly maintained.
In Ottawa, the city has been content to spruce up Frank Clair for major events such as the Grey Cup and Jeux de la Francophonie without overhauling the outdated facility.
"The mayor has laid out a vision for what he would like to see Lansdowne become," Robinson said. "The mayor has not laid out any conditions, one way or another, of how that would happen. The mayor's office is open to people who would have proposals to make that asset a true community gem and a centre for what life in Ottawa could be."