The billionaires’ playground

LeBreton Flats: the perennial question mark sitting on Centretown’s map, will soon enough have its answer.

Two weeks ago, Devcore Canderel DLS and RendezVous LeBreton groups presented their respective visions of the redevelopment to the public in an attempt to demystify with models and endear themselves to the public. Now, it falls back into the hands of the NCC to decide the fate of the Flats.

At the end of this process, one group will be given the deed to develop almost 10 hectares of prime land and the right to leave a lasting impression on Canada’s capital.

Whichever the choice, the final product is sure to disappoint.

The proposal process itself is set up to fail. The NCC has opted to give exclusive rights for the entire area to a single group of successful billionaire bidders, rather than divvy up the land for a dozen or so separate proposals. This winner-take-all format inevitably leads to conflict and minimizes the impact of public interest.

Take, for instance, the controversy over a potential NHL arena. Both proposals have included an arena in their plans, and the Ottawa Senators will likely factor heavily into the NCC’s decision. But Sens owner Eugene Melnyk won’t share his toys, refusing to move the team to the Flats if the group he’s backing, RendezVous LeBreton, isn’t successful.

Now, Melnyk holds the entire proposal process hostage. Devcore will be a casualty to this unimaginative process. Pour one out for the “Brewseum.”

The competing proposals each have their merits, yet this process does not allow for a best-of-both-worlds approach.

Could the NCC instead have put out a laundry list (solicited, in part, from the public) of its ideal LeBreton Flats? With a separate proposal for each aspect of the development, a number of issues could have been avoided.

If Melnyk were only bidding on an arena, the rest of the development wouldn’t be at his mercy.  If a new central library were on the list, it would be easier to solicit involvement from the federal government without an extra player involved. If the NCC put indigenous representation as a necessary staple of the development, it’s far less likely to fall by the wayside as proposals are inevitably altered before implementation.

You may bemoan a lack of cohesive vision tying these installations to one another. This idea does, in fact, put the onus on a notoriously fickle group. No, not the NCC – the public. There’s significant good that could come out of it, though.

Providing smaller chunks of land for development opens up the process to new bidders and partners to come together to create a collective vision of the area. To look at the completed project in five years time (10, if we’re being realistic) and see an automotive museum next to an immersive indigenous art installation won’t seem all that strange to Canadians.

If we were really looking to leave a lasting impression on our capital that actually might have been the most Canadian thing we could have done.