5 big questions about the LeBreton Flats bids

Two teams have put out attractive pictures and made their pitches for the public to critique. Here are some questions you might be wondering about.

How important is an arena? Where does a library fit in? And who decides who wins?

The Devcore Canderel DLS Group made a linear park called Canadensis the spine of its public use area in its proposal. RendezVous LeBreton's bid has a major event centre and LeBreton Square as its public anchor use. (renderings submitted)

The sleek photos and pitches released this week on the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats were almost overwhelming.

So overwhelming, in fact, that it's possible you may still have questions about the how the whole process could play out.

Here are five questions about the competing visions for LeBreton, and a few possible answers.

How important is the arena?

The National Capital Commission didn't start a procurement process for an arena where the Ottawa Senators might play. It asked the private sector to come up with a redevelopment anchored by some sort of public use that would keep LeBreton lively year-round and serve as a new landmark in a capital city. 

The RendezVous LeBreton group responded to the bid and made a major event centre and huge public square the core of its proposal.

The Devcore Canderel DLS (DCDLS) group, meanwhile, chose a series of museums and attractions — an automobile showcase, a multimedia museum, and so on — strung along a linear park to be its proposal's focus.

That proposal puts an arena in Phase 3, and its bid will be evaluated on a "public anchor" that must be delivered in Phase 1. 

DCDLS proposes a "Theatre of Sports and Entertainment" near Bayview Station, which would be built during the third phase of its redevelopment plan. In the RendezVous LeBreton bid, a "major event centre" housing the Ottawa Senators is at the core of the development. (Renderings submitted)

How much would these proposals cost — and are they even viable?

The public has no way of knowing. The NCC has ordered that financial information and price tags be kept under wraps for confidentiality reasons.

But the NCC didn't just ask for pie-in-the-sky ideas with no thought as to how to pay for it.

Its request for proposals asked each team for many market rationales, analyses and visitor studies to prove they had the right ownership, plan and money to follow through. 

DCDLS, which includes billionaires André Desmarais and Guy Laliberté, says it's putting big money in up front to get its botanical linear park, called Canadensis, built.

As for the smorgasbord of attractions it lays out, the team says many were selected because industry might subsidize them — hence the auto and media museums — or because partners with their own business cases have shown interest in building them (think the aquarium, hotel and seniors' residence).

"We're not hanging our hat on a condo market," said Daniel Peritz of Canderel.

RendezVous LeBreton —the Ottawa Senators and Trinity Development joint venture — says it has many successful companies as partners and has investors that include the Ontario Pension Trust, the Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust and Brookfield Asset Management.

How does a new central library for Ottawa fit into the plans?

Both the NCC and the City of Ottawa say plans for a new municipal central library, which could involve Library and Archives Canada, is a separate process.

Mayor Jim Watson wants shovels in the ground on the library project sooner rather than later.

"Whether we are able to hook our wagon to one of those proponents, or go it alone independently, we'll have to determine that when we send out the RFP later this year," Watson said this week.

Both bidders, however, see LeBreton as an ideal spot for a central library.

In the bid backed by the Sens and Trinity, the library occupies a spot just off the LeBreton lands, at the northeast corner of Booth and Albert streets. 

DCDLS puts the library at the same intersection, but on the LeBreton parcel.

Both bids make space for a new main branch of the Ottawa Public Library at the corner of Booth and Albert streets. RendezVous Lebreton's rendering is on top, and Devcore Canderel DLS Group's rendering beneath it. (Submitted images)

Who decides who wins?

The NCC struck an evaluation committee more than a year ago made up of three unnamed NCC executives, an architect, and a land economist.

The committee will choose one of the bids and submit its decision to the NCC's board, which is made up of appointees from across Canada.

The architect is Jack Diamond, who's known mainly for his landmark arts facilities, including the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto and the new Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Locally, his firm is responsible for the upcoming redesign of the National Arts Centre in 2017 and the addition of the glass tower.

The land economist and planner, Mark Conroy of N. Barry Lyon Consultants in Toronto, rounds out the evaluation committee.

The evaluation committee has lots of material to consider from the bids submitted on Dec. 15, including reports from technical experts and a report that compiles all the surveys and feedback from the public consultation.

The committee will use a 140-point scorecard set out in the request for proposals, while a fairness monitor will make sure they follow those criteria. 

How soon would something be built at the Flats?

It depends on how the NCC process plays out, and how the due diligence and negotiations go with the preferred bidder. At this point, the NCC hopes to get federal approval by the end of the year and finish municipal approvals in 2017.

Eugene Melnyk has promised that, if his team wins, the Sens would play in the new arena in 2020-21.

DCDLS says it would start building in 2017, and focus first of all on its botanical walk between two future light rail stations and a band shell. 

Whether the group could meet the ambitious idea of having that project ready for Canada's 150th birthday is highly dependent on how long the approvals and decontamination would take, should they win.