Arena no longer key to public support for LeBreton project, poll shows

A new poll suggests most people in the National Capital Region would be disappointed if the current dispute over LeBreton Flats ices plans to redevelop the prime downtown land, but don't necessarily see a new NHL arena as the project's key element.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk's popularity takes beating in EKOS survey of 1,000 residents

A new poll suggests Ottawans are split over whether a redeveloped LeBreton Flats needs to include an NHL arena. (Image supplied by RendezVous LeBreton Group)

A new poll suggests most people in the National Capital Region would be disappointed if the current dispute over LeBreton Flats ices plans to develop the prime downtown land, but don't necessarily see a new arena as the project's key element.

More than 1,000 residents of Ottawa and Gatineau who answered the randomized online survey by EKOS were evenly split on whether an NHL arena is key to the LeBreton redevelopment, but were dead set against using public money to build an arena.

The public opinion survey was conducted in the days after the National Capital Commission (NCC) revealed that the partners in RendezVous LeBreton Group — Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Trinity Development chairman John Ruddy — could not resolve internal partnership issues.

The NCC board gave the partners until the end of January to come to an agreement while the NCC figures out what the next steps are if the deal can't be saved.

The day after that NCC board meeting, Melynk's firm sued Ruddy and other partners for $700 million

EKOS president Frank Graves said while his polling firm has had many of the RendezVous players as clients in the past, including Trinity, the Senators, the NCC and the City of Ottawa, he conducted this poll to gain a better understanding of where the public stands on this "huge project."

His impressions?

"I think there's some sense that we'd like to have a hockey arena as the centre of this development, but if that's not happening, let's move on," Graves said. "If that's what's standing in the way, then let's just drop it."

Frank Graves of the polling firm EKOS says the idea that 40 per cent of hockey fans don't support the Ottawa Senators owner is 'shocking.' (Vic Modderman/CBC)

'Extremely disappointed'

More than half of respondents — 55 per cent — said they support the RendezVous LeBreton vision, while only 17 per cent opposed the project.

When asked if they would be "extremely disappointed if the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats were put in limbo over this dispute," 64 per cent agreed. 

However, it doesn't appear their disappointment is anchored to an NHL arena at LeBreton, the centrepiece of the RendezVous LeBreton proposal. 

Only 41 per cent of respondents agreed that including a new arena is a "crucial ingredient in any proposal to redevelop LeBreton Flats."

An almost equal portion — 40 per cent of poll-takers — disagreed.

The remainder had no opinion.

Little appetite for bailout

Asked whether Melnyk has "made an important contribution" to the capital since buying the team, 35 per cent of respondents disagreed, while only 28 per cent agreed.

Almost one-third of respondents — 32 per cent — had "no further interest in supporting the Ottawa Senators as long as Eugene Melnyk is in control." 

The public is souring on Melnyk.- Frank Grave, EKOS

Of those respondents who identified themselves as hockey fans, nearly 40 per cent said they won't support the Senators while Melnyk is still there — an even more telling statistic, according to Graves.

Senators fans have put up billboards around Ottawa signalling their frustration with the team's owner and CEO 0:16

"The public is souring on Melnyk. He has his supporters but … there's more negativity than positivity," Graves said. 

"The fact that such a large number of the fan base says, 'I don't want anything to do with him,' I'm sure it's overstated and it's an expression of frustration and pique, but it's still a pretty shocking number."

A whopping 79 per cent of respondents disagreed with the idea of using tax dollars "for a large portion of the cost of building a downtown arena for the Ottawa Senators," and 60 per cent were against the NHL stepping in to fix the current situation.

The randomized online poll of 1,045 residents aged 18 and over was conducted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, 2018. 

For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

However, when results are subdivided — such as looking at the results for hockey fans only — the margin of error increases.