The city isn't convinced spending about $1 million to install air conditioning in the revamped Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park would be a good investment. JANA CHYTILOVA / OTTAWA CITIZEN
Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen
A non-competition agreement with the EY Centre prevents the city from pursuing trade shows for Lansdowne Park, whose city-run buildings had just over half of the rental times booked in 2015.
It’s one of the barriers to maximizing rental space in the Horticulture Building and the Aberdeen Pavilion.
The deal to keep trade shows away from Lansdowne was struck when the city partnered with Shenkman Corp. to build the exposition hall near the Ottawa International Airport. The city contributed $8.5 million to the facility, which the city believed was necessary to bring trade shows to Ottawa when Lansdowne was redeveloped.
EY Centre president Kevin McCrann said the facility hasn’t had to enforce the non-competition agreement with the city over trade shows.
“The majority of the time there is no issue,” McCrann said, adding that the new Lansdowne isn’t exactly conducive to trade shows.
A spokesman for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group said TD Place isn’t in the trade show business, anyway. (The city runs the Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building. OSEG runs TD Place.) The trade show space in the “salons” of the old Civic Centre became commercial space in the TD Place redevelopment.
While growing, occupancy at the historic city buildings hasn’t hit what the city thinks it can achieve. In 2015 the buildings were rented 54 per cent of the available time.
The revenue for city operations at Lansdowne in 2015 was below budget. On the other hand, expenses weren’t as high as expected. Expenses were budgeted to exceed revenue and, on the bright side, in 2015 the deficit wasn’t as bad as the city predicted.
The two old buildings have their seasonal limitations, on top of the legal barriers created by the non-competition agreement.
The city and OSEG need to plan carefully so transportation to Lansdowne isn’t negatively affected, especially on game days at TD Place.
Then there’s the weather.
Aberdeen Pavilion is pretty much a 33,000-square-foot tent with limited temperature control.
The Horticulture Building has become a popular venue for receptions, but a lack of air conditioning is a barrier to summer bookings. The cross breeze through the open doors isn’t enough to cool people down on the most stifling days.
It would cost the city about $1 million to install air conditioning in the Horticulture Building, and while staff believe it can be done in an architecturally sensitive way, they aren’t convinced it’s worth the cost. The city already paid $10 million for the relocation and renovation of the 1914 building.
Mayor Jim Watson has his doubts, too, about the prospect of installing air conditioning.
“That’s a big expense,” Watson said. “It’s a great building unless it’s one of the hottest days of the year.”
Watson said the city is upfront with prospective renters about the lack of air conditioning in the Horticulture Building.
Window air conditioners are out of the question, since the city went to great expense to improve the aesthetics of the building after moving it to its current location.
Where the city thought before the redevelopment that the Horticulture Building would be perfect community space, it’s finding it hard to attract groups because of the large size and tough competition from its own community centres.
The city is interested in how its occupancy rate for Lansdowne stacks up with other cities. It plans to compare statistics with other North American facilities located in large parks. While staff have talked with counterparts in New York City and Seattle, they say it’s still too early in Lansdowne’s rebirth to compare numbers.