Another failure from Lansdowne: Sporting Life and the death of Tommy & Lefebvre

Stores at Lansdowne are starting to open. Lindt, BMO, Winners, Milestone’s and Whole Foods are already doing business. Sporting Life is set to open its doors in a few days. It is this last one that may be the biggest betrayal of all.

I don’t want to rag on Lansdowne. I hope it succeeds. I hope it achieves its goal of being an urban village. I hope it brings some variety to the Glebe shopping experience (and for all that we may, rightfully, rag on the opening of a Winners, there’s pretty much nowhere else in the Glebe or Old Ottawa South to get reasonably-priced clothes). I still think it will, but I think Sporting Life is a significant misstep.

There are a number of reasons to recoil at the opening of Sporting Life. It’s a chain; it doesn’t bring much new to the neighbourhood; it’s facade is looking very box store; it’s not a local company. These are all unfortunate aspects of Sporting Life, but these are not the big problem. The problem is that Sporting Life is killing off Tommy & Lefebvre.

T&L is an Ottawa institution. Founded in 1958–in Ottawa–it’s been a staple of our city’s sporting goods industry for over half a century, it has lasted through tough economic times, and it even rebounded from a fire a few years ago.

Last year, T&L was bought out by Sporting Life. Since then, it has continued to operate out of its Bank Street location. But that’s over now. With the opening of the Sporting Life, T&L will shutter for good.

This is a betrayal of the goals and responsibilities of OSEG. The Lansdowne development was not supposed to cannibalize Bank Street. It wasn’t supposed to steal tenants, robbing the rest of the city of merchants and community icons. It is supposed to nurture Ottawa retailers, not bury them.

There is, of course, a rather simple solution. Sporting Life could resurrect the T&L brand. Sporting Life is not established in Ottawa. There is little brand awareness, and there can’t be much value in adopting the Sporting Life name and ditching the T&L legacy. T&L is part of our community. It’s been around longer than many of us. It is quite sad to see it go. It would be a lovely gesture for Sporting Life to re-establish one of the preeminent Ottawa brands.

Re-re-visiting Lansdowne: Credit to OSEG

The transportation plan for the first RedBlacks game went off quite smoothly (at least in the Glebe), which is why it was so absurd when an OSEG representative said that, based on the previous success, they were thinking of opening up more streets for on-street parking.

It seems they may have reconsidered, as this morning city workers were out putting up No Parking signs along Bank Street (no parking between 3:30 to 11:30, the brunch crowd is still safe). This is good news. I haven’t finished my morning coffee, yet, so I haven’t been out and I don’t know if I they have restricted parking on any other streets.

Re-visiting Lansdowne

It’s been two weeks since the inaugural RedBlacks home game, and with the second home game coming up tomorrow, I thought I’d go through my impressions of transit to and from the game. I had planned to give an elegant little review, but that never happened, so let’s just go through this bullet-point style. And to warn you, this will be focused the Glebe, since that’s where I live.

Pre-Game:

  • Things worked well. Bank Street wasn’t plugged up, and cars, vehicles and bikes were able to move along pretty freely. I got home form work around 5:00 pm, taking Fifth Avenue to Bank (and then quickly turning left off of Bank). It was easy to turn onto Bank, change lanes and turn at left without the aid of stop light.
  • Buses were running smoothly. They didn’t seem to be blocking other traffic at all.
  • This is primarily because there was no parking, so no need to make non-stop lane changes. Sadly, it seems like we’ll be saddled with parking tomorrow.
  • It was loud, but not too loud along Bank, though the KISS FM tent was obnoxiously loud. Pedestrians moved along quickly, and generally didn’t get in the way.
  • Some pedestrians would cross the street willy-nilly without looking or caring that they were cutting people off.
  • It really was a marvelous carnival atmosphere. This is the sort of thing we need to do more of in the city.
  • Bank Street emptied quickly right before kick-off. There was no mad rush, honking or anything. All of a sudden, there just wasn’t anyone there. This would be a testament to the planning of OSEG.
  • Apparently, they ticketed 51 cars and towed 8. I only saw one person get a ticket, it was around 8:00 and she had popped into Kardish to pick up a few things.
  • There bike cops everywhere, seemingly.

Post-Game:

  • After the game, I quickly headed to a local bar. Lansdowne emptied relatively quickly, and for a brief while it got a little loud. Still, it wasn’t that bad. Really, it was about what you’d expect for a central neighbourhood during a special event.
  • Within about 20 to 40 minutes, everyone seemed to have left or arrived at their destination, as Bank became relatively empty again (though bars were quite busy).
  • The bike cops were still patrolling.
  • There was an ice cream truck that parked illegally (with some irritating music playing). The cops told him to move. He got huffy, but moved anyway… to another illegal spot. They made him move again and he seemed to just give up and leave.
  • I didn’t see a ton of trash on the streets. There was some, sure, but again, downtown event; what would you expect?

So that’s about it. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. It’s a weekend, so that may altar travel patterns. It might rain, so that might put a damper on things. The biggest worry, though, is the parking situation. The city and OSEG admitted there was ample parking for the game, but, still, they want more for tomorrow. If enough people hear that and think it means oh, I can drive to this game, they’ll have screwed themselves and the neighbourhood.

This is why we can’t have nice streets

I’ve been meaning to write about the inaugural RedBlacks game at Lansdowne. As prep, I’ve been reading a number of different reports to try to get as complete a picture as I can. Reading this report in the Ottawa Citizen, I was just floored by this passage:

OSEG’s plan calls for 2,500 vehicles to park and walk, representing 6,200 “person trips.” Landry said while there were many cars parked around Lansdowne, there was lots of availability further north and east of Bank, as well as south of the stadium. That means the heavy no-parking restrictions the city introduced on various streets in the Glebe for Friday’s game might be relaxed in the future.

Greg Best, chair of the Glebe BIA, had similar findings. “I didn’t get the sense people were circling around trying to find spots,” he said. “I looked at Glebe, First, Second, I looked at them all. … The traffic wasn’t really an issue. I was surprised.”

This is just mindboggling. The traffic plan worked. The parking restrictions allowed for an easy flow of buses, bikes and pedestrians. People really listened to OSEG and left their cars at home. Some people drove and parked, but so few that even with a lot of parking restrictions there was still “lots of availability” for parking. Which mean, we don’t need more parking capacity!

There may be no better representation of the myopic idiocy of car-centric urban planning than to look at a successful transportation plan with ample excess parking and respond, “More parking!”

For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with the positive reports about transportation (speaking, at least, for the north side of Lansdowne), but part of what made the whole experience so great was the lack of parked cars (and drivers looking to park) gumming up the major streets, Bank and First.

Jack Astor’s and the Urban Vision

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen published an op-ed of mine offering measured support for the Lansdowne re-development project. I know it’s a controversial issue in Ottawa, but there was a bit of pushback that I really wasn’t expecting:

There are two points where I mention Jack Astor’s. Here:

Despite assurances of unique boutique retailers, we are getting Winners. And Jack Astor’s. And PetSmart. We are getting establishments that superficially play into the original vision, but demonstrate a lack of understanding of the connections between urban dwellers and their neighbourhood.

And here:

Lansdowne, as a residence, is being marketed as the newest hip urban experience. It aligns nicely with the compositions of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, while still maintaining its own character — smaller dwellings, no single-family homes. This is not the Winners/Jack Astor’s crowd. The residential development is a good match for small boutique stores. Unfortunately, if the retail mix does not attract the local crowd, it will need a car-heavy commuter class to survive.

I responded noting that I wasn’t objecting to Jack Astor’s, per se, but that it is a part of the overall composition of food and retail stores going into Lansdowne, and that composition is a betrayal of the original plan put forth by OSEG and their partners J.C. Williams (in June of 2010, J.C. Williams claimed that OSEG claimed to have formal interest from many unique boutique retailers). However, my interlocutor was objecting to the specific inclusion of Jack Astor’s:

I’m still unconvinced. Jack Astor’s is a derivative corporate chain with a name that was originally just silly wordplay. It is akin to Boston Pizza, Montana’s and Outback. These are the big box stores of restaurants. Look at the current Ottawa location. The restaurant’s design, as well as the general form that the restaurant takes does not fit with the urban vision of Lansdowne.

We must remember that OSEG (and J.C. Williams) stressed that they were looking to complement the Glebe and Old Ottawa South. The vision of Jack Astor’s (either the Kanata location or their other locations) in no way complements these neighbourhoods. It clashes.

Of course, when talking about Lansdowne, we’re talkinga about a vision, a new urban village. Even if we don’t want to compare it to the long-established urban villages of the Glebe or Old Ottawa South, we could, at least, compare it to Ottawa’s newest hip urban neighbourhood, Hintonburg.

Can anyone reasonably argue that Hintonburg needs a Jack Astor’s, that the chain would, in any way, fit with the vibe of the neighbourhood? I can’t imagine taking any such argument seriously.

Further, I don’t have to make the claim that Jack Astor’s is commonplace in Ottawa. I’m not judging the project by my aesthetics, I’m judging them by the aesthetics laid out by OSEG and J.C. Williams. They’re the ones who said that they would get unique stores rather than chains, but that when they got chains, they would get ones that would then be unique to Ottawa and would fit with the overall concept. Jack Astor’s isn’t unique to Ottawa, even if it is not commonplace, and does not fit with the vision.

In the end, Jack Astor’s is a perfect fit for the types of stores that OSEG has found, stores like PharmaPlus, Winners, GoodLife, Sporting Life and Telus. These are all chains that better fit a suburban shopping model than a walkable urban village.

Perhaps Jack Astor’s will scale back their typical overbearing exterior and create something that will at least look like it fits with the Lansdowne vision. That would be nice. But there is no way to justify their inclusion with the purported vision. Lansdowne is walking a fine line. They’re a part of the Glebe, but trying to set themselves apart. If they go too far, we will see the waste of the land and the erosion of an existing comunity.

A Successful Test

Last week, OSEG had a test-run for RedBlacks fans and TD Place employees. They intent was to welcome the fans, tour the facilities and figure out just how the whole thing was going to work. It was, by all reports, a success. It is clear (and there was never much question) that Jeff Hunt and his cohorts know how to run a sports franchise. It was the development side of things, including transportation, that was a little more worrisome.

Thankfully, the transportation aspect seemed to go smoothly. I wound up on Bank Street at about 5:30 pm. It was noticeably busier–more drivers, more cars parked, more pedestrians–but everything was moving smoothly. Even on my bike, I was able to quickly merge with Bank Street traffic, change lanes and turn onto my street (which has no traffic light).

One interesting development is the effective reduction of Bank Street to one lane. On-street parking is prohibited from 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon, and it doesn’t usually fill up right at 5:30, but last week was different. With all the parking (which, note, won’t be available for Friday’s home opener), cars had to occupy the centre lane, exclusively. This meant that straight-through traffic had to co-exist with left-turners and those lost or hunting for a parking spot.

My takeaway from this is that it would not be much of a problem to reduce Bank Street to one lane, expand the sidewalks and add bike lanes.

This would also address the one real issue with the open house, pedestrian traffic. Bank Street sidewalks are too narrow for the current burden of foot traffic. RedBlacks fans will just make it all the more crowded. Complicating matters is that a lot of fans appear to have little idea as to how to walk down and share a busy urban sidewalk. I’ve often noticed that those who don’t walk very much demonstrate little awareness of the pedestrians around them, and this was reinforced last week. But if that’s the worst of the traffic problems, I’ll take it (and, perhaps, it will be a learning experience for a lot of our residents).

There is, of course, a big caveat to all of this. There were only about 10,000 fans in attendance (according to reports, which are likely to overstate things) and we are expecting 27,000 at Friday’s game. In addition, fans did not all arrive for the 6:00 pm opening; they trickled in for hours. This probably won’t be the case Friday. It could complicate things.

Lansdowne Test-Run

So tonight, OSEG is hosting RedBlacks season ticket holders at Lansdowne/TD Place Stadium. They’ll be running shuttle buses along Queen Elizabeth Drive and there will be increased bus service along Bank Street. It’s an attempt to simulate the game day experience, and they hope it will serve as a training run for fans and employees, alike.

It will be interesting to see what happens. There will be no special parking restrictions, so this won’t simulate next week’s home opener. It’s also difficult to guess how many ticket holders will actually show up this evening. They’re expecting 27,000 for next week’s game. Will they get anything close to that? If they don’t (and with the additional parking), their may be a false impression given as to the ability to drive to the game.

Anyway, OSEG should still be commended for this effort. For all the faults of OSEG (retail mix, lack of setbacks), it is clear that they know how to run a sports team. It would be rather devastating to Lansdowne should football fail within a few years, again.

Here’s hoping this test-run will help smooth out any transportation problems.

Is OSEG Just Lying?

News came out yesterday that Winners is the newest retailer to set up shop at Lansdowne Park. The groans were inevitable. OSEG and the city have touted Lansdowne as an urban village, a “unique urban village”, but adding Winners to a list of shops that includes PetSmart, GoodLife, Booster Juice and Telus is just more evidence that the vision isn’t so much “urban village” as it is “South Keys North”.

OSEG and the mayor can object to the big box store label (and, perhaps they’re right, they’ll be medium-sized box stores), but they can’t really claim anything unique or village-y about this shopping plaza. So, it really brings us the question, were they just lying?

It is possible that Lansdowne will still resemble something close to an urban village–and I certainly hope it does–but the overall promise is going unfulfilled. Maybe OSEG never planned to make an urban village. Maybe they had no idea whether it was even possible. I should probably assume stupidity rather than malice.

But it reminds me of their treatment of transportation. The travel plan for RedBlacks games hopes for hundreds of cyclists. This is a good development, and they have planned for it, to an extent. They will have 600-1000 spots for supervised bike parking (for special events), and they are installing 300 bike rings throughout the grounds. So, they’re trying… sort of.

If OSEG really wanted people biking to Lansdowne, they wouldn’t handcuff the city when it comes to re-developing Bank Street. As it stands, we may not be able to get rid of on-street parking (thus making actual room for hundreds of cyclists) due to the contract with OSEG.

Further, the travel plan requires parking buses on the Bank Street Bridge, creating a walk-your-bike-zone (which apparently won’t actually be enforced). It’s bad enough that the bridge is unsuited to bicycle traffic (and pedestrian traffic), and the city isn’t doing anything substantive about it, now–on game days–they’re telling people to get off their bikes. And remember, Bank Street is considered a cycling route by the city.

I still have hopes for Lansdowne. I don’t think the obvious mistakes are crippling or irreversible (well, maybe some of them are irreversible). I just hope that the apparent dishonesty is just an appearance.

We shall see.

Bank Street Parking and Lansdowne

A report from March was brought to my attention today. Metro reporter Steve Collins notes that because of the Lansdowne deal with OSEG, the city may be handcuffed in regards to parking on Bank Street:

Legal staff, however, warned that tinkering with the parking supply runs the risk of violating the agreement the city signed with Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group. This seemed to be news to councillors on the committee, and that’s also in keeping with an emergent Lansdowne tradition: discovering surprising conditions buried in the city’s sweeping and labyrinthine deal with OSEG.

While much of the discussion in recent weeks has been about parking around Lansdowne during RedBlacks games, the issue of everyday parking is an occasionally overlooked aspect. As I’ve argued (and as I’m sure you agree), all parking along Bank Street in the Glebe (and probably from Wellington Street to Billings Bridge, and beyond) should be removed. Bank Street should adopt a Complete Street model with two traffic lanes, two bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Apparently, the OSEG deal puts a cramp in such thinking.

This is clearly bad news, even aside from implementing a Complete Street. The city has effectively handed OSEG control over one of the major streets that runs through our city, possibly handcuffing future councils. (And that city negotiators seem to have done this without discussing the matter with council means there are people who need to lose their jobs right now.)

But parking matter is overblown. It really is. People will complain about trying to park in the Glebe, but such complaints are quite ignorant. Every Saturday and Sunday, I walk along Bank Street multiple times. Without fail, there is ample parking. On just about every block, on each side of the street, there is at least one empty space. There may not be a spot directly in front of the store you want to go to, but there’s generally a spot within a block or two (which is actually closer than you’d be if you were parking at a mall or big box store wasteland).

And, of course, if Bank Street just happens to be full at some point, there are still a plethora of side streets for cars. The city even has plans to build a multi-story parking garage in the next few years.

There’s no shortage of parking right now, and there’s no strong evidence of a shortage in the years to come. OSEG claims they want to build an urban village–which is, essentially, what the Glebe and Old Ottawa South already are–but if that’s true (which, really, we know it isn’t), they shouldn’t be trying to turn Bank Street into a parking lot for a glorified strip mall.

Who wants to go to Lansdowne?

OSEG and the city have released their initial game day travel plan for Lansdowne Park. It’s pretty thorough, but also rather straightforward (dear God, don’t bring a car to Lansdowne). You can read about it in the Metro, the Sun or the Citizen. The Citizen’s Joanne Chianello also has a good take. It’s really too soon for an in-depth analysis, but it seems like a pretty good plan. Here are a few initial thoughts:

  • It’ll still kind of suck. Face it, transportation kind of sucks. You may like a leisurely Sunday drive in the country or cruising on your bike along the canal, but when it comes to more utilitarian transportation—especially when we’re talking about moving 20,000+ to one location, it’s going to suck. All we can hope for is that OSEG and the city make it suck as little as possible. They may have come close to achieving that.
  • Cars are not really welcome. Sure, you can take your car to Lansdowne, but—unless you’re a V.I.Fan—you’re not parking on-site. Even then, there are only spots for about half the number of potential VIPs. You can try parking in the neighbourhood, but no special accommodations will be made. OSEG claims there are 2500 spots nearby, but “nearby” means from the Queensway to Riverside and from Bronson to the river. Many people won’t consider such spots within a walkable distance to the stadium.
  • Yes, drivers, OSEG is trolling you. Live with it.
  • They really want you to use buses or shuttles. They’ll be churning up and down Bank Street and along the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. And you’ve already paid for them (they’re included in the price of the ticket, so they’re “free” on game day), so you might as well use them.
  • Fans who bike or walk will be subsidizing everyone else. Cyclists and pedestrians already subsidize all road users, but now those fans will be directly subsidizing mass transit-using fans. But no one should complain. That’s the price of having a CFL team back. If you don’t like it, don’t go to the games.
  • Concerns about transportation are overblown. People seem to think that the Glebe has never hosted an event with tens of thousands of people coming and going at approximately the same time. It’s like the Rough Riders never happened. I used to attend Riders games, and I used all modes of transport (walk, drive, drive-and-walk, bike, bus, bus-and-walk, shuttle bus). We all poured out of Lansdowne at the same time, and the place cleared out pretty easily. The only thing that didn’t was the parking lot. It’s a good thing we won’t have to worry about that now.
  • Seriously, why would you drive to Lansdowne?
  • For the first game, the city is barring all parking on Bank Street. This is probably a good thing, though there is a chance cars will drive way too fast. There’s also a chance pedestrians will fill the curb-side lanes. This would be a great use of the street. It also underscores the idea that we should make Bank a two-lane complete street.
  • I imagine part of the reason that there won’t be any parking on Bank Street for the first game is to drive home the message, you won’t find parking down here. If so, good job by the city and OSEG.
  • Apparently, the BIA doesn’t like this idea but have agreed to it for the first game only. The city wanted more. Well, the BIA helped kill any plan for a complete street on Bank, so I have no sympathy.
  • To that end, this gem came out in the Citizen’s report, “But some business owners remain concerned about how the narrow street will accommodate the additional traffic while leaving room for regular shoppers.” Well, if they’d just pushed for a complete street…
  • Glebe residents are going to complain. I say that as a Glebe resident who lives closer to Lansdowne than probably 98% of the neighbourhood. They’ll complain. I might grumble a bit, but it’s just the price of living in an urban centre. I’ll take this over the suburbs.
  • That being said, some residents will likely have legitimate beefs. For instance, residents on Lakeside Avenue (though not in the Glebe) are getting the shaft. My street is occasionally used as a cut-through to Fifth Avenue (it saves time only if you speed… unless you have to stop to clean dead children and pets off your grill). The city will need to address specific gripes.
  • I don’t want them to change parking limits to one hour. That also hurts residents and patrons of other shops. Keep it at three hours (maybe two or two and a half), and patrol it religiously at first. People will be away from their cars for more than three hours. Ticket the hell out of people.
  • If they put special one hour parking on game days on specific streets (say Clarey or Holmwood…maybe those are one hour now, I don’t drive so I don’t park), I’m not going to complain. My street tends to be full at all times, so I’m not too concerned about it.

In the end, there’s nothing new to complain about. If you never liked the idea of football in the Glebe, you’re still unhappy, and many of your concerns are reinforced. If you think you have a Russ Jackson-given right to drive your car anywhere and everywhere and especially to CFL games, you’ll be disappointed when you’re forced onto buses or sidewalks with the unwashed masses. I mean, you’re going to a football game, you certainly don’t want to be crammed cheek-to-jowl with other people.

For some fun rubbernecking, read the comments on the Sun or Citizen stories. Then weep for humanity.