The Lansdowne 2.0 project is set to reach a key milestone on Tuesday, as city councillors vote on what the contract to build the new arena and stadium stands will look like.

With that contract expected to go to tender next year, City of Ottawa staff are also asking council’s finance committee for $4 million to fund detailed design work.

It’s happening against a tight deadline — one that’s maybe too tight, according to Annik Forristal, a lawyer who specializes in construction.

Racing to beat the clock on blueprints could cause all sorts of problems, said Forristal, co-head of the national infrastructure and construction group at McMillan LLP and a former engineer.

“It seems like the design stage is likely to be rushed, because they’re trying to push for building permits in advance of the new building code,” she said.

The city figures it has about a year to get the design in under the old building code. Any later, and there’s a risk it would have to redraw the plans at significant cost and delay.

“That’s not a whole lot of time for a really complicated project,” said Forristal.

Talk of building codes, procurement and delivery models might sound technical and wonky, but Ottawa architect Toon Dreessen sees this as a defining moment for Lansdowne.

“It is absolutely essential,” he said. “The procurement model defines the outcome.”

As design work continues, staff want to keep the architect that Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) hired to draw up concept plans. They say that will retain momentum and allow the project to go forward seamlessly.

According to a staff report coming to committee, launching a competitive design process open to other architects would add months — and potentially millions of dollars — to the project.

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard called that a “sole-source” contract. In his view, an open competition could yield a better design.

Dreessen, who has no connection to the project, agrees.

Ideally, he said the city should issue an invitation to architects, shortlist some candidates and present designs to the public and a jury.

“The worry I have is that we’re only getting that one choice,” Dreessen said.

Staff opt for tried and tested but ‘riskiest’ model

The city got advice from consulting firm KPMG to help choose the kind of contract it should use.

The consultant preferred more collaborative delivery models — progressive design build and construction management at risk — over the traditional design-bid build model, which separates the design and construction work into separate contracts.

But city staff reordered the rankings, putting design-bid build at the top. Their report cites the LRT public inquiry report, which urged the city to use “established approaches” for large infrastructure projects.

While city staff say they have more experience with that tried-and-tested approach, Dreessen called the design-bid build model “absolutely the riskiest” option for the city.

“There are alternative models that are much more collaborative, much more engaging,” he said.

“The architects [might say] ‘isn’t this beautiful?’ and the contractor might say, yeah, but given the site constraints, I can’t build that without it costing a lot of extra money,” she said.

“So they’re able to be at the table and provide that pragmatic implementation advice that necessarily has schedule and cost implications.”

While the city’s preferred approach — design-bid build — might seem to offer more cost certainty, that can be deceptive.

Currently, the city’s rough estimate is $419 million. The bidding process should pin it down more precisely, but Forristal cautioned against viewing it as a final price.

“No matter what, no matter how much risk the owners put down, there’s always room in those contracts for those numbers to be adjusted when things unexpected happen,” she said.

Still, she noted that design-bid build is the most common model, and the city’s comfort level with it is a relevant consideration.

“You could take any of these models and shoot yourself in the foot, but if you execute any of these models really well, any of them can work,” she said.

Appeal from community association another risk

The city offered another reason for rejecting one of KPMG’s preferred models: a legal challenge from the Glebe Community Association.

Staff can’t actually issue a building permit until the group’s appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal is resolved. In their view, that negates one of the advantages of construction management at risk, which allows construction to go forward in tandem with design.

Forristal said the tribunal’s calendar is so backed up that it could take many months to get a hearing.

And what if it rules against the city?

“Decisions could be made there that will materially impact the design,” she said. “So are we designing right now and then redoing all of that design six months from now, 10 months from now, when the outcome of that becomes known?”

Combined with the tight building code deadline, she doesn’t see a recipe for success in meeting the city’s budget requirements.

Aside from the $4 million for design work, staff are also asking councillors for a $20-million line of credit, guaranteed by the city, that would cover cash flow during construction.

Their report to finance committee also lays out a detailed schedule for the project.

It foresees the construction tender going out in mid-2025. The arena is expected to take about two years to build, and two more years for the north-side stadium stands.

That brings us to about 2029, when the construction of the residential towers over the stands could begin.

Whatever the committee decides will have to go to council for final approval.

After that, the only hurdle at council left for the project is a vote on the legal agreements, the final construction price and the value of air rights for towers over the stands.

Written by Arthur White-Crummey, originally published on