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Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

Ottawa 2017: Company's coming, get it together

It might be seen as a bit of national capital hubris that we see our town as the alpha and omega of next year's Canada 150 celebrations.

The 2017 celebrations are fast approaching.

Metro file

The 2017 celebrations are fast approaching.

It might be seen as a bit of national capital hubris that we see our town as the alpha and omega of next year's Canada 150 celebrations. Surely the entire country will turn 150 at the same time, and there might be other great places to be at some point in the festivities.

Still, it's a fairly conservative bet that national celebrations like Canada Day, plus the Juno Awards, the LPGA Canadian Pacific Women's Open and the Grey Cup, will keep us on hospitality overdrive next year.

Celebrations Ottawa Inc., the non-profit organization steering the city's year-long sesquicentennial rave-up, is full of big predictions for 2017: 1.75 million additional tourists, a 20 per cent jump over normal years, 3,000 new jobs province-wide, an estimated $230-million injection into the local economy.

On the less boosterish side of the ledger, we can also anticipate countless additional pressures on local services.

At last week's health board meeting, Ottawa Public Health predicted all the extra festivals, parties and sporting events, and higher attendance at some of the regular happenings, will require them to carry out 1,500 to 1,800 “special event inspections,” an increase of 25 to 50 per cent from last year.

This is expected to drive up overtime (all those evening and weekend events) and further squeeze their normal food safety inspections and related duties. They're still looking to other governments to cough up extra funding for the expected costs, as the province did for the PanAm Games.

Still, as Coun. Mark Taylor pointed out, “We're in November. 2017 is only two months away. Are we going to get there? What's the realistic potential of being able to find those opportunities to scare up that money?” Stay tuned.

Also of concern is just where all these additional visitors will stay. Canada Day is always a tough time to get a room, but a quick check with Expedia on Friday showed a grand total of three remaining vacancies in the entire city for this year, one at the High Trees Bed and Breakfast (a mere 19 kilometres from downtown), and two at KC's Country Inn (36 kilometres).

One idea the city's exploring is offering pop-up camping sites on municipal property for that weekend.

“I think that's a very novel idea,” Mayor Jim Watson said after the last council meeting. “We've seen it in other jurisdictions where there have been big events, and we are going to have a challenge with the accommodations sector because there are going to be so many big events that the hotels will fill up, so we need to offer some alternatives.”

The lead-up to this accommodation crunch seems an odd juncture, though, for the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association to call for taxation and regulation of Airbnb rentals, as it did this week, following the leads of Toronto and Vancouver in what looks like a developing replay of the city-by-city battles between Uber and the taxi industry.

Hotel association president Steve Ball, I note, is also co-chair of the Ottawa 2017 board. Perhaps he could persuade his members to wait until next year's influx of visitors departs happy before urging any action to restrict the supply of places for them to crash.

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