Hard Rock Casino unveils expansion plans

A major $318-million expansion to the Hard Rock Casino in south Ottawa will include a hotel and a 2,500 seat concert venue and 20 new gaming tables if the application is approved by city council.

Casino promises more consultation with the public and city council

A rendering of the expanded casino space proposed by the Rideau Carleton Raceway and the Hard Rock Casino. (Hard Rock Casino)

The Rideau Carleton Raceway and the Hard Rock Casino unveiled plans Thursday for the $318-million expansion of the entertainment facility in south Ottawa.

The expansion will include an eight-storey hotel, a 2,500-seat concert venue and 20 new gaming tables if the application is approved by Ottawa city council.

The casino hopes to begin construction in 2019.

The plan has already been submitted to the city, which will require several rezoning applications.
The casino wants to expand its gaming capacity for a total of 55 tables and 750 slot machines, on par with the Casino du Lac Leamy in Gatineau. The goal is to compete for a share of the $60 million of gambling revenue in the Ottawa region that crosses the river into Quebec every year.
A rendering of some of the proposed gambling tables the Hard Rock Casino would like to add to the existing Rideau Carleton Raceway site. (Hard Rock Casino)

"The benefits to the local community if we repatriate that money is obvious," said Andrew Wright, director of the Rideau Carleton/Hard Rock joint venture.

The joint venture is also seeking approval for a Hard Rock Live concert venue, with hopes to attract major acts to the city and create an entertainment district in south Ottawa. 

The expansion also calls for a steakhouse restaurant with 150 seats and a 40-seat lounge, but those parts of the project do not require council approval.

Once the expansion is complete, the new entertainment district will be rebranded under the Hard Rock moniker.

Mixed reaction from councillors

Coun. George Darouze, who represents the ward, praised the project for the many jobs and tourism opportunities he said it will bring to the mostly rural part of town.

The close proximity to the airport will be a particular advantage, Darouze said.

This is not great news.- Coun. Diane Deans

But Coun. Diane Deans, who represents the neighbouring ward, was less optimistic. She said the complex is not well served by road and transit infrastructure, which could create traffic problems and potential costs to the city.

"As the member of council that supports an abutting community that has already felt the adverse effects of way too much traffic travelling through their residential neighbourhood, this is not great news," Deans said.  

Financing for the project will be raised privately, and Wright promised not a penny of public money will be used to expand the entertainment district.

The casino does hope to benefit from long-term plans to run the O-Train to the Ottawa International Airport, about eight kilometres away.

Further consultation promised

The Hard Rock said it plans to consult with the community and city council, after it faced criticism in November for not getting council approval to add more tables to the casino.

Instead, the casino went through a far less public process. The casino admits it could have done things differently last year, but said this expansion will be different.
A rendering of the proposed casino expansion at the existing Rideau Carleton Raceway location. (Hard Rock Casino)

"It's going to be a very open book consultation process because without that we're not going to get the support," Wright said. "We want to be building what people want."

A public consultation meeting is planned for March 7. Council will make a decision on the application in the spring.

If approved, the expansion will occupy about 40 hectares of land at the existing raceway site. There are another 160 hectares of undeveloped land that Hard Rock could use to create a huge entertainment district in the future.

"A multifaceted entertainment destination ... will be a really exciting place for Ottawa to come to," Wright said.