By now, you’ve probably heard about the plans to build Canada’s largest playground in Mooney’s Bay Park. In case you haven’t, here’s a quick summary: Sinking Ship Entertainment approached the City of Ottawa a few months ago with a proposal to build an enormous playground in Mooney’s Bay Park as part of a reality television series on TV Ontario. Timed to be ready in time for the festivities celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday next year, the playground would be built largely by kids volunteering. The not insubstantial costs will be split between the City (up to $960,000 according to an email from the ward representative) and the production company. Giver, the TVO program, is running a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to raise $150,000 (of which $770 has been pledged as of 1pm on the 23rd of May, including at least $250 from people who work on the show).
News of this was only made public a few days ago because “the matters being negotiate between the City and the proponent were embargoed”. City Council members and staff were prohibited from talking about this prior to a few days ago.
There are a number of large festivals, including the HOPE Beach Volleyball and the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, which have been long-time users of the park. Over the years, these two festivals alone have raised over $7.2 million for local charities, not to mention the postive impact they’ve had on local tourism. As a participant in the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival since 2001, I can report that there are teams that come from out of town to participate.
You’ll note that I haven’t said anything about public consultations or even discussions at Council (at least discussions not held in camera). That’s because they haven’t been held. Yet.
Apparently, there will be some sort of public open house held in early-June, but given that some trees have already been removed and there are reports that more will be removed in the near future, it will essentially be a fait accompli.
My questions as a taxpayer are:
- How much will this cost us in the long term? This runs the danger of becoming a white elephant once its novelty has worn off.
- Why does River Ward get a huge playground investment when the rest of the wards don’t? Or are similar investments planned for playgrounds in other wards?
- What are the rules surrounding “embargoed” projects? Is the City involved in other proposed projects like this from the private sector that could cost us millions that we aren’t aware of?
I have other questions, which I may raise later.
Rick Chiarelli, College Ward councillor, apparently stated the following in a recent email:
1) Mooney’s Bay has been designated an “active” – not passive – play area for decades. The Mooney’s Bay play element has been monopolized by adults for many years but, following extensive public consultation, the site has been slated to expand its active play FOR CHILDREN for over 15 years.
2) There is no option to simply move the subject playground to another site as the money that is coming from the private sector to make it possible is being offered ONLY if it is at Mooney’s Bay.
Addressing his first point: There is a large play structure currently in Mooney’s Bay just south of the building in the middle of the park. Yesterday evening, while I was dragon boating, I noted that the play structure was being used by lots of children. To suggest the park has been “monopolized by adults” is nonsense.
Addressing his second point: Suggesting that the private sector gets to call the shots on this simply because they are holding a bag of money is worrisome. It sets a dangerous precedent for future projects being proposed by the private sector. If the private sector money wasn’t there. the project wouldn’t be built, at least not on the scale that is being proposed.
What needs to take place immediately is the following:
- site preparation, including removal of trees, stops;
- a user survey of the current site be conducted/updated. The last major study apparently pre-dates the move of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival to the site, for example;
- an environmental impact assessment be conducted;
- a transit/parking impact study be conducted. If this structure ends up being as popular as predicted, will there be enough parking available on-site?
- a proposal to relocate the Sue Holloway Fitness Park, which is located exactly where this new structure is going to be installed, be drawn up and made a permit condition should the playground project end up going forward;
- a cultural heritage study for the iconic white bridges be conducted. They date back to at least 1965 when there was a network of waterways in that portion of the park, as can be seen in this photo from the 1965 airphotos imagery on geoOttawa:
Lastly, proper public consultation openhouse sessions need to be held. Just because a private sector company walks up with a bag of money doesn’t mean that the City should cave to their demands.