Mayor to confront Eugene Melnyk over LeBreton comments

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to confront Eugene Melnyk to find out whether the Ottawa Senators owner is serious about redeveloping LeBreton Flats.

'If he's constantly hedging his bets, he better tell us,' Jim Watson tells reporters

During a town hall meeting with season ticket holders earlier this month, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said the LeBreton Flats redevelopment project is more complicated and fraught with risk than he originally thought. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to confront Eugene Melnyk to find out whether the Ottawa Senators owner is serious about redeveloping LeBreton Flats.

"If he's constantly hedging his bets, he better tell us," Watson told reporters following a National Capital Commission (NCC) board meeting Thursday.

Melnyk's RendezVous LeBreton Group emerged last year as the winning bidder to redevelop the vacant land west of Ottawa's downtown, and is currently in talks with the NCC. The group's plans include building a new NHL arena and moving the Senators from their current home in Kanata.

The mayor's comments come a week after Melnyk told Senators season ticket holders during a town hall meeting that the LeBreton Flats project is more complicated than he originally thought, and fraught with risk.

'A huge project with tremendous risk'

'It's a very difficult — much more than I thought — very difficult process, and it's not the NCC that is holding it up. They've actually been very very good throughout this whole process. The problems we are finding, they are much more complicated than I could even start to describe to you. It's a huge project with tremendous risk," Melnyk said at the April 11 town hall.

"I'm a risk-taker. This one is really rolling the dice, and if we're wrong, we're really badly wrong. And my concerns are, are we moving from Kanata, where we've now stabilized — we're OK," Melnyk said.

"And why are we moving? Are we moving to be closer to the very people that cannot get tickets, or won't buy tickets?" he asked.

Melnyk questioned why the federal and municipal governments won't buy tickets for their employees, and said he'd "love to see that change."

One fan questioned whether Melnyk has the financial resources to re-sign Senators captain Erik Karlsson and make the move to LeBreton. Melnyk responded that he has more than enough money, but said he needs to be fiscally responsible as well.

Another hot topic at the town halls was Melnyk's attack on Ottawa fans during the NHL 100 Classic outdoor game festivities in December. At that time, he said he'd consider moving the franchise unless attendance at Canadian Tire Centre improved.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to confront Eugene Melnyk to find out whether the Ottawa Senators owner is serious about redeveloping LeBreton Flats. 0:50

'Wouldn't be a disaster for us at all if LeBreton didn't happen'

"If it doesn't look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I'm not suggesting that right now. All I'm saying is that I would never sell the team," Melnyk said in December. "At one point one of the two have to break. You can't keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues.

"Here we're fighting every day to sell a ticket, honest to God. When you get to the third round of the playoffs and you're begging people to buy a ticket, something's wrong with that picture, so we're just hoping that changes."

Melnyk went on to add the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats in downtown Ottawa is not a given, saying he's not convinced a downtown arena is a necessity for this franchise.

"I'm all in, but it wouldn't be a disaster for us at all if LeBreton didn't happen," Melnyk said in December. "We need something to happen at one point. Something's got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break. We're just basically sitting it out, working through with the [National Capital Commission], and they've been co-operative and reasonable and we're just going to try to continue to get that completed. I don't trust anything happening our way necessarily."

NCC boss not worried

As far as NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson is concerned, the LeBreton talks are going generally as planned.

Kristmanson said environmental studies are moving again, and that he had a productive lunch with Melnyk and Trinity boss John Ruddy three weeks ago.

Asked if comments like Melynk's undermine public confidence in the process, Kristmanson wouldn't comment on Melynk's statements, but said that in these sorts of huge projects, there will always be a "swirl of commentary."

"And we'll have our ups and downs on this process, but so far, so good. I'm not dismayed."