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Walking through Lansdowne Park on a crisp fall afternoon, you'd never know that in the years leading up to its recent $200-million renovation it used to be merely a slab of asphalt with a football stadium with one side that was crumbling.
Now, after an aggressive revitalization project that opened in November of 2014, Lansdowne is a hotbed for businesses and restaurants that drew 1.5 million visitors in its first year, according to numbers provided by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), one of the key stakeholders of the project.
"People have had a very positive impression of the new stadium [Lansdowne is home to the North American Soccer League's Ottawa Fury and the Canadian Football League's playoff-bound Ottawa RedBlacks] and the retail and restaurant components," explains Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. "People keep coming back and experiencing something new."
Originally developed as municipal fairgrounds in the 1860s, Lansdowne Park – a stretch of land on Bank Street adjacent to the Rideau Canal, about three kilometres from Parliament Hill – has gone through many iterations.
It was the home of the Ottawa SuperEx until 2010; bands such as U2, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie have performed on its grounds. It has also been the home of three CFL franchises – the aforementioned RedBlacks, the ill-fated Renegades (2001-05), and the Rough Riders (1876-1996).
When a proposal was brought to the table in the mid-2000s to revitalize Lansdowne Park once and for all, there were many skeptics. But the formal launch of the new Lansdowne in June of this year – as part of the Women's World Cup of soccer – was met with much fanfare.
Mr. Watson says even those who were vehemently opposed to the project initially "have told me it's turned out a lot better than they have anticipated."
Lansdowne resides in a well-established neighbourhood in Ottawa called the Glebe, where the average income of its residents is higher-than-average. According to an Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, the percentage of Glebe residents whose pretax annual income is greater than $125,000 is 7 per cent higher than Ottawa's average.
That can help explain why such shops as Whole Foods and Sporting Life, long known for their well-to-do clientele, have decided to make Lansdowne home.
"I think with sophisticated retailers who operate all across North America, when they see a site with unique tendencies like this, they recognize they can be successful," says Bernie Ashe, the chief executive officer of OSEG. "Lansdowne will be an entertainment energy zone. It mixes public space, heritage buildings, sports stadiums, condos and restaurants.
"It's just a cool place," he continues.
And, Mr. Watson agrees.
The Mayor is in his second stint at the helm of Canada's capital (he was also the Mayor from 1997 through 2000 before representing Ottawa West-Nepean for the Ontario Liberal government from 2003 through 2010), and knows the new Lansdowne is something special.
"It's really just a great place," he says. "Before it was just acres of asphalt. Now, the lawn at the back [facing the Rideau Canal] is as big as the front lawn on Parliament Hill."
But David Chernushenko, the city councillor for the ward where Lansdowne is located, told CBC Ottawa that it was too early to tell if the redevelopment has been a success. The city is expected to get the money it invested back over the next 40 years, but according to Mr. Chernushenko, it could be more than a decade before that starts coming in.
That said, some feel this past year has been just the tip of the iceberg for what Lansdowne can offer Ottawa's residents and visitors.
"The area has gone through a major transformation," explains Andrew Peck, the executive director of the Glebe Business Improvement Association (BIA). "There's an element of weariness having gone through so much change, but the reality is, everyone sees a light at the end of the tunnel and we're at that light."
The various amenities are what make tenants of Lansdowne Park so keen to be there, according to Jamie Boyce, the associate vice-president of CBRE Canada's Ottawa office.
Mr. Boyce and CBRE are leasing office spaces at Lansdowne, and he says there are already a number of tenants such as a private high school, a new technology company, a dentist and Football Canada.
"From an employee attraction and retention perspective, it's a landmark location for the city. Groups that I've been dealing with recognize the benefits of all the amenities on site and the open space and vibrancy," he explains.
The lease rates are comparable to any new construction anywhere in the city. The buildings are attractive because taxes and costs at Lansdowne are two-thirds that of those in downtown Ottawa, according to Mr. Boyce.
A full 95 per cent of the retail areas – managed by Trinity Developments – are now leased. There is one more restaurant set to open in 2016 – the Craft Beer Market, a unique bistro chain from Western Canada – and the 300-unit condominium building on site, managed by Minto Group, will be ready next year.
Each retailer has a lease with Lansdowne Retail LP, and OSEG contracts Trinity to be the builder and site manager for each retail location, according to Mr. Ashe. Trinity is under contract from OSEG to collect rent and service and manage the buildings occupied by tenants of Lansdowne.
One of those tenants is Local Public Eatery. A trendy restaurant and bar in seven Canadian cities, Local opened in November of 2014. Manon Paquin, its general manager, has been very pleased with Trinity as a landlord.
"They've been on top of everything," she says.
But Tom Christie, the general manager at the Milestones location at Lansdowne, told CBC Ottawa he expected there to be more foot traffic through the first year of operation.
"It hasn't been everything that we expected it to be, for sure," he stated.
Ms. Paquin feels the opposite, however. The Local Public Eatery in Lansdowne is the chain's lone outlet in Ottawa. There are two other Milestones locations across the city.
"We've been busy, but we didn't expect how busy. Almost every single weekend in the summer there was something happening at Lansdowne," Ms. Paquin explains. "We were one of the first [businesses] who opened here, and we really worked on building sales and building regulars and getting people excited about the brand."
Ms. Paquin has recognized the importance of being in the Glebe and a part of the new Lansdowne. It's been beneficial being a part of something new, she says, but she is excited for the offices to be completely filled in the coming moths.
"The Local brand is about creating regulars and about the local community. I think we've really hit home with that," says Ms. Paquin. "All of us at Lansdowne are excited for the vacant spots to be filled, but I know they [Trinity] are working hard to do that."
As the offices, condominiums and retail locations get filled through early 2016, the Lansdowne of the past won't be forgotten – there is a collection of historical buildings still on site – but the Lansdowne of the future is now.
"Ottawa is a world-class capital in the best country on earth, and businesses see the city coming in to its own," says Mr. Peck of the Glebe BIA. "The neighbourhood is stronger for [Lansdowne]. There's more to do, there's something for everybody."