Edward Jones and Eugene Melnyk

Who doesn’t love Merlin Olsen? It really didn’t matter what he did, he was eminently-likeable. Whether he was acting as a calm, competent broadcaster; doing the Good Cop-Good Cop routine with Michael Landon on Little House on the Prairie; or pitching flowers for FTD, who could be won over by this lovable giant?

Okay, so now you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about Merlin Olsen on a blog about Ottawa. Well, before he did all those other things, he was a star defensive linemen for the Los Angeles Rams, part of the Fearsome Foursome.

Fine, fine. That doesn’t really answer the question.

About twenty years ago, the Rams fled Los Angeles for St. Louis (who had lost the Cardinals when they moved to Phoenix a couple of years earlier). The Rams were playing in an old stadium, and could get a new one out of the city. St. Louis promised them a new stadium, the Edward Jones Dome, and the St. Louis Rams were born.

…and died about a week ago when the Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles. They’ll have a new state-or-the-art stadium in Carson City and St. Louis will have the Edward Jones Dome, which will be emptier now that they don’t have a regular tenant.

When the Rams moved to St. Louis, they signed a thirty-year lease. Now, with ten years left on the lease, St. Louis is left an empty dome and $100 million in debt.

This is why I’m very wary of building an NHL arena at Lebreton. Let’s put aside the idea of gifting this land to a billionaire Barbados resident, or letting it be a pawn in an aggressive bid to buy the Senators. We have no certainty that a professional sports team will be sticking around.

The Senators have had some financial problems in the past. They desperately wanted to build a casino in order to make their business viable. And they got all huffy when the city didn’t bow to the whining.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t have an arena at Lebreton. It just means that this massive focus on building an arena is very very bad. If an arena fits in with a solid, overall development plan, so be it. But the developers need to make the case for the arena’s longevity and demonstrate that it’s good for the Flats, rather than just good for a hockey team’s owner.

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