Lebreton Flats: picking a winner out of our hands

The visions have been delivered, the public is weighing in — but in the end the winning bid will be the one that best delivers on the NCC's demands.

Rating RendezVous, DCDLS proposals up to hand-picked panel

Aerial views of LeBreton Flats as envisioned by bidders RendezVous LeBreton, top, and Devcore Canderel DLS Group, bottom. (Renderings submitted)

There's been a lot of noise this week over who should — or even could — build an arena at LeBreton Flats, and what to make of the glossy pictures and grand pitches.

But what counts, and what comes next, has little to do with any of that.

What will matter is who gave the National Capital Commission what it asked for, and that's up to five unelected people tapped to assess the two competing proposals.

The NCC is very clear that this whole thing is about enticing a public anchor, or anchors, to the Flats. The NCC wants something that can revive an area neglected for decades, an area that will soon form the hub of the city's light rail system.

Each bid will be judged on whether its anchor is "worthy of national significance" and "creates a new capital landmark" that's "meaningful to, and a source of pride generally for all Canadians."

NCC scorecard

The key attractions should keep LeBreton Flats lively year-round, indoors and out, and be backed by a solid business case, according to the extensive 140-point scorecard in the request for proposals.

Those who flocked to the Canadian War Museum this week, or studied photos online, witnessed the efforts of both groups to tick off the boxes in the hopes of coming out the winner. 

llumination LeBreton, pitched by the Sens-backed RendezVous LeBreton Group, tells us their public anchors are, obviously, their main event centre and the adjacent public square.

The Abilities Centre, Sensplex and possible new city library on land nearby are supporting characters in a re-development rooted in new neighbourhoods connected by an historic aqueduct.

The backers of LeBreton Re-Imagined saw many anchors — a band shell, squares, a communications museum — all strung along their "magic botanical thread," a linear park of Canadian flora they likened to New York's High Line or Chicago's Millenium Park. 

A 'monumental task'

Notice there's no arena in that list from the Devcore, Canderel and DLS Group. 

The NCC wants the public anchor delivered in Phase 1. The DCDLS bid delivered this week — the document they'll be rated by — doesn't contemplate an arena until Phase 3, although that group says the Senators should be downtown and is open to all talks with the team's owner Eugene Melnyk to see that happen sooner. 

The NCC's scorecard also places a lot of emphasis on whether the bidders can prove their plans are viable, and whether they have the money and ability to follow through. This is a way for the NCC to shelter itself from risk.

The public wasn't allowed to see price tags attached to these two dreams this week, but we know from sources the RendezVous Lebreton bid is worth $3.5 billion. 

We can't judge how they will stack up.

But the NCC demanded loads of paperwork, from studies on visitor traffic to detailed analyses of demand for housing to a financial plan that sets out milestones for when and how the NCC receives fair market value for the land. 

It was a "monumental task" to get together, said Canderel's Daniel Peritz. 

No referendum

So who decides whether an event centre that is home to one of seven Canadian NHL teams is a source of pride for all Canadians? Or whether the automotive museum, the multimedia museum, the skydiving wind tunnel, the aquarium and "the world's greatest skate park" will ever come to be?

There will be no referendum by the people of Ottawa.

There will be no prolonged debates around the city council table, among 24 locally-elected representatives.

What happens at LeBreton Flats is largely up to five individuals you've probably never heard of: three un-named NCC executives, Toronto planner and land economist Mark Conroy, and architect Jack Diamond, whose recent projects includes the new Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, and whose firm is working on the major facelift at the National Arts Centre.

Diamond isn't allowed to speak about the bids, but he said he has lots of meetings between now and March, when the panel is expected to tell the NCC's board of directors which bid — if either — it prefers.

In other words, the evaluation committee's work is just beginning.

"I think the fairest thing is that there be open minds," said Diamond.

One of the documents the panel will take into consideration is a report summing up all the public feedback pouring in, and Diamond said he thinks public input is important. 

That said, this is no popularity contest. The scorecard awards zero points for being most appealing to the thousands of people who will fill out an online survey.

Fairness monitor

Teams of technical experts from the NCC, the city of Ottawa, academia and the private sector will also distill each bid's promises about transportation, sustainability and financing into reports for Diamond, Conway and the three NCC execs.

Even then, a fairness monitor has been assigned to shadow them all the way, making sure the committee members follow the RFP's criteria as they evaluate the bids.

If and when the evaluation team singles out a winner, the ultimate decision will be up to the NCC's board, with its cross-Canada membership, likely in April.

Once that preferred bidder is chosen, then the negotiations can start.

"I think there's some room for some horse-trading about what they want, what we want, what the public wants," NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson told CBC. So, what we see now could change before the federal government eventually gives its final sign-off.

LeBreton Flats has been waiting 50 years to be re-imagined or illuminated. But which set of glossy pictures is best, and whether the parks, buildings and action they promise materialize as advertised, is out of our hands.

About the Author

Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past 15 years, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.