Ottawa Senators sale a key factor in LeBreton Flats bid

The DCDLS bid to redevelop LeBreton Flats, which opposes Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators, hinges on the potential sale of the NHL team.

Billionaires André Desmarais, Guy Laliberté named as key financial backers for DCDLS bid

Andre Desmarais, left, is backing the DCDLS bid for Lebreton Flats and Guy Laliberté, right is said to be backing the bid. They are Quebec-based billionaires. (The Canadian Press)

You don't buy an NHL team if you don't have a rink to play in — or at least have one in the works — and you don't build a rink without a team.

That's why Devcore Group, which includes architects, builders and developers, is believed to have recruited two of the wealthiest Canadians in their bid to redevelop LeBreton Flats, a valuable parcel of real estate just west of downtown Ottawa.

There's every reason to believe the group will make an offer to buy the Ottawa Senators from Eugene Melnyk.

Billionaire André Desmarais, one of Canada's richest people, is backing the bid. Major players in the bidding process also say Guy Laliberté is on board.

Desmarais is the son of the late Paul Desmarais, once the wealthiest man in Quebec, whose estate was worth about $5.6 billion US in 2015. Laliberté is a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, and was worth $2.1 billion US in 2015, according to Forbes.

The two groups are bidding for the two parcels in red at Lebreton Flats, just west of downtown Ottawa, while the two parcels in yellow could also be redeveloped by the winning bid. (National Capital Commision)
Laliberté, who recently sold most of his shares in Cirque du Soleil, has been cast as a potential NHL owner for several years.

Desmarais, the chairman and CEO of Power Corporation in Montreal, was born in Ottawa and the family name is rooted in the capital. The University of Ottawa has a 12-storey building on campus named in his father's honour.

Devcore Group also features Montreal developers Broccolini and Canderel, construction firm Pomerleau, plus three architects — Richard Brisbin, Claude Provencher and Moriyama & Teshima.

Things said 'on the street': Devcore head

The head of Devcore Group, Jean-Pierre Poulin, dodged the question this week when asked if his group hopes to buy the Senators from Melnyk.

It's worth noting NCC rules dictate neither group can reveal details of their plans publicly or to a third party.

Poulin only said a lot of things are being said "on the street."

"The best is really, you know, to wait and come to see the presentation and what we were able to put together for those two days there," Poulin said, referring to the two days of presentations to the NCC.

"I think it's going to be very exciting and we're really excited to see and to hear what everybody has to say about it."

Desmarais and Laliberté would bring the money necessary to not only redevelop LeBreton Flats — at minimum 9.3 hectares and at most about 21 hectares — but also buy an NHL team.

Melnyk publicly refuses to sell team

Melnyk and the Senators are the billionaires' only rivals for LeBreton Flats, running under the name Rendez Vous LeBreton Group. The extent of their development team has not been revealed, but reports have indicated Windmill Developments — proponents of the adjacent Zibi project — and architect Barry Hobin are involved.

Melnyk has been steadfast, insisting his Senators will not play at LeBreton Flats if DCDLS wins the right to redevelop the land, and he refuses to sell the team.

"The long and short of it is the team is not for sale, never will be in my lifetime, for sure. Number two: you can't come into my territory. What's a matter with you? Like, who is going to play there?" Melnyk told media last month.

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said "there is not a chance" his team would play at a new arena at LeBreton Flats if it is built by a competing bidder. 0:46

This statement is classic business strategy. Melnyk must know if he even hints at selling the Senators, the value of the team will surely drop. He knows how to play that game.

On Tuesday, both groups will present their redevelopment plans to the National Capital Commission before the public catches a glimpse on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some members of DCDLS have already been active in Ottawa. Some insiders have seen tentative — though detailed — plans, while a meeting is scheduled with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson for Monday.

CBC News also learned Melnyk was busy calling some Ottawa city councillors on Friday, but the purpose of those calls isn't known.

What is known, is there is no value in owning an NHL-style arena without an NHL franchise to play there.