LeBreton Flats

Ottawa Senators-backed bid top choice for LeBreton redevelopment

The Ottawa Senators could soon be playing in a new downtown arena after a bid backed by the team was named as the top choice to redevelop LeBreton Flats — a desolate expanse in the heart of the capital that has been largely empty for decades.

Selection committee chooses RendezVous LeBreton bid over Devcore Canderel DLS Group

The Ottawa Senators could soon be playing in a new downtown arena after a bid backed by the team was named as the top choice to redevelop LeBreton Flats — a desolate expanse in the heart of the capital left largely empty for decades.

The National Capital Commission board voted Thursday to move ahead with negotiations with the Sens-backed RendezVous LeBreton Group after a five-member selection committee announced its proposal — which includes five distinct neighbourhoods centred around a major events centre — was the preferred of two final bids.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk promised to deliver on everything in the proposal to both "change the landscape of the city" and "solidify" the future of his NHL team, which has been playing in the suburb of Kanata far from downtown since 1996.

'It's going to be a huge, huge win all around," he said after the meeting. "I can't wait to build that stadium — very quick."

But Stephen Willis, the NCC's executive director of capital planning who was also on the evaluation committee, warned that consultations with First Nations, as well as federal and municipal reviews must take place before construction begins on the 21-hectare site.

"This is going to take more time," Willis said. "You don't build communities like this overnight."

'Clear' winner

NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson, who was on the evaluation committee, told a packed board meeting that there was debate over which of the two proposals was best but that, in the end, there was a "clear" winner.

Willis went through the evaluation of rival bidder Devcore Canderel DLS Group first at the meeting, detailing "extensive, bold and imaginative" anchors, including an NHL-calibre area, a Ripley's aquarium, a new central library and a bandshell for outdoor events.

But Willis said the committee also found that the new LRT track — currently being built to link west Ottawa to the downtown core — was "divisive" to the development plan rather than the more integrated approach proposed by RendezVous LeBreton Group (RLG).

You realize, "Wow. I just bought myself 30 years of work."- Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk

The committee found RLG's plan to cover the LRT with a new east-west road called Canada Drive was "bold and pivotal" to its proposal, Willis said.

The winning plan also promises more than 4,000 housing units — including affordable housing — as well as plazas, park space and a restored aqueduct that could be a skating rink in winter. Another feature is the Abilities Centre, a recreation and activities centre with services for people with disabilities.

But the committee noted that RLG's plan to build a new central library is currently on a lot outside the redevelopment lands.

LeBreton Flats sits mostly empty west of downtown Ottawa. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Melnyk admitted he was "kind of shocked" when his group's proposal was chosen after such a competitive process.

"I shouldn't have been but I was. You know, you see your name up there, and you read it twice, and you realize, 'Wow. I just bought myself 30 years of work,'" he said. "But in all seriousness, I was elated, excited."

​The committee evaluated the bids after the two competing visions were unveiled to the public at the end of January. 

'Got to be very patient'

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who had a seat on the NCC board as a non-voting member for the first time Thursday, was met with a vague answer with no firm timeline after he asked how soon there would be "shovels in the ground."

Willis said there are many factors that could stretch final approvals, with timelines ranging from 2017 to 2019.

Melnyk said he would like to start building "quicker" than the NCC indicated without compromising the process. He has previously said that, if his group's bid wins, his team would play in a new arena by 2020-21.

"But a lot of these projects you've got to be very patient with. You don't want to rush certain parts of it," he said. "Especially the up-front negotiations — you want to get it right the first time and then after that get the process together."

Though the NCC voted to start negotiations with RLG, it could still pick up negotiations with Devcore Canderel DLS Group should those initial negotiations fail.

Daniel Peritz, of the Devcore Canderel DLS Group, said his team needs time to reflect on the decision.

"We're a little disappointed, no question about that," he said. "We respect the decision of the NCC. Not sure we agree with their results but that's not our decision."

The negotiations team is expected to update the NCC board on its progress by November 2016, if not sooner.

This map shows the RendezVous LeBreton Group plan.