Plan now for vacant Canadian Tire Centre, city urges Sens

Mayor Jim Watson says he doesn't want to repeat the mistake other cities have made by leaving Ottawa's NHL arena vacant when the team moves downtown.

Edmonton, Kansas City let arenas go vacant after teams moved out

The Ottawa Senators have called this arena, now known as the Canadian Tire Centre, home since 1996. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Mayor Jim Watson says he doesn't want to repeat the mistake other cities have made by leaving Ottawa's NHL arena vacant when the team moves into a new downtown rink.

My concern is that [the Senators] would move ahead with LeBreton and tie up that land, that very important piece of property for the west end, tie it up for years by doing nothing with it.- Coun. Allan Hubley

Watson, who's preparing to take a seat at the negotiating table to hash out details of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment, said Tuesday the future of the Canadian Tire Centre (CTC) in Kanata must be considered before the Senators move to a new arena.

The worst case scenario, according to Watson?

"That it remains vacant and empty and no activity happens there for years and years." 

In September Senators president Tom Anselmi said the organization hadn't settled on a plan for the CTC after the team moves out. Watson said Tuesday as far as he knows, there still isn't one.

Confidential negotiations

The Senators-backed RendezVous LeBreton group's plan for LeBreton Flats includes a new NHL arena, 4,000 housing units and other public amenities.

While the city isn't yet involved in the confidential negotiations between RendezVous LeBreton and the National Capital Commission, it expects to be involved at later stages.

At Tuesday's finance and economic development committee meeting, councillors approved the city's mandate for those negotiations. 

"My concern is that [the Senators] would move ahead with LeBreton and tie up that land, that very important piece of property for the west end, tie it up for years by doing nothing with it," said Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley, whose ward abuts the arena.

Edmonton's example

Edmonton, the most recent Canadian city to move its NHL team downtown, announced in September it would close its old arena permanently at the end of the year because it couldn't come up with a viable plan for the building.

The fate of Northlands Coliseum wasn't debated by Edmonton city council until construction of the Oilers' new downtown home was nearly complete.
The former home to the Edmonton Oilers was closed last December. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Andrew Ross, chairman of the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee, told councillors in Edmonton to look at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City as an example of what can happen when local decision makers wait until the last minute.

"I literally get goosebumps thinking about it because it is so derelict," Ross said last year.

Ottawa has even less control over the fate of its old arena because, unlike the Alberta capital, Ottawa doesn't own the building. 

"At the end of the day it's owned by the private sector, and they need to decide what they're going to do with it," Watson said.

Residents concerned 

Stittsville Coun. Shad Qadri, whose ward includes the arena, said residents are already expressing concerns about what will become of the Canadian Tire Centre if the Sens move downtown.

I don't want the community to feel that they were left out of the discussion- Coun. Shad Qadri

"I don't want the community to feel that they were left out of the discussion," Qadri said.

He said between 8,000 and 10,000 people live in the area surrounding the CTC, and there could soon be more.

Qadri said he expects developers will want to begin building on some of the abundant available land surrounding the CTC before a decision is made about the building's future, and he wants planning staff to take that into consideration before approving their proposals.

An agreement in principle between the NCC and RendezVous LeBreton is expected by the end of the year.