LeBreton Flats residents react to latest twist in development saga

People who live near the proposed LeBreton Flats say the lawsuit is the latest disappointment in the project that has been slow moving.

$700M lawsuit pits Senators' owner against developer partner, jeopardizing downtown arena deal

David Gork has lived in a condo overlooking LeBreton Flats for the past five years. He's pessimistic the 20-hectare site will be developed in his lifetime. (Stu Mills/CBC)

People who live near LeBreton Flats say a new lawsuit pitting the owner of the Ottawa Senators against his development partner is just the latest disappointment in the slow-moving project.

The $700-million lawsuit, which became public Friday, was filed by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk's company Capital Sports Management. It names Trinity Development Group Inc., its founder and executive chair John Ruddy, as well as project manager Graham Bird and his company Graham Bird Associates.

The statement of claim alleges Trinity's pursuit of a condo tower development at nearby 900 Albert St. would undermine the financial viability of the LeBreton Flats proposal, which includes a new downtown arena for the hockey club.

David Gork, who lives in a nearby condo, said the lawsuit wasn't necessarily a surprise — and it means it will take even longer for the 20-hectare parcel of land to be developed.

"We're left here sitting with open fields, with ground that is somewhat contaminated," he said. "It's going to be like that for another ten years. I do not see [the plans] coming into fruition any time sooner."

"It's sad for us as owners here and it's even worse for the people of Ottawa," he added.

'Slow-moving train wreck'

Dalhousie Community Association head Michael Powell said the community has been working with many of the parties who wanted to be involved in the development of LeBreton Flats, and he's not sure how the project will move forward. 

"It seems like this has been a slow-moving train wreck," he said. 

Michael Powell, head of the Dalhousie Community Association, is frustrated by news of the breakdown in the plan to develop LeBreton Flats. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is suing his partners. 0:26

Powell said he wants to make sure whatever project goes ahead fosters a vibrant community.

"The empty bedrock that is LeBreton Flats [has] to have something that reflects the needs of the community and the needs of Ottawa," Powell said.

Powell said it's disappointing the fight seems to be between two big companies over how to divide "a giant pile of money."

Arena in question

Bruce Firestone, one of the founders of the Ottawa Senators, tweeted that he doesn't understand Melnyk's decision to file a lawsuit.

He underscored that the move to a downtown arena is "essential" for both the Senators and the city.

Nicolas Ruszkowski, the Senators chief operating officer, said the lawsuit isn't about Melnyk, but the financial viability of the partnership with Trinity Development Group — which depended on profits from residential, commercial and mixed-use development to fund the arena.

"One of the most fundamental misunderstandings here is that this is driven by his own money issues," Ruszkowski said. 

"This is driven by a difference of opinion about how to finance the model. And our approach has always been to finance the project through the proceeds of the development."

Nicolas Ruszkowski is chief operating officer for the Ottawa Senators. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Ruszkowski said the Senators are pursuing all avenues and remain committed to revitalizing the LeBreton Flats area with a new NHL arena.

He would not provide details Friday on what those avenues might include, however, or if other partners were being considered.

As for Trinity Development Group, a statement attributed to executive chairman John Ruddy said the company denies the allegations in the lawsuit and will vigorously defend the claim.

CBC News reached out to Bird and the National Capital Commission, which owns LeBreton Flats. No statements were received from either by Friday night.