A rendering for the LeBreton Flats proposal submitted by the RendezVous LeBreton Group. Photo provided by RendezVous LeBreton.

Uncertainty clouds plan for Sens’ new arena at LeBreton Flats

By Justin Dubois

More than a year and a half has passed since the RendezVous LeBreton Group won the bid to construct a new hockey arena complex for the Ottawa Senators on LeBreton Flats. And yet, a month into 2018, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the site.

Mario Tremblay, strategic communications advisor at the National Capital Commission, is expressing assurances that despite slow progress and an unexpected blip in December — when Sens owner Eugene Melnyk raised the possibility of the team staying put in Kanata — the NCC and the RendezVous LeBreton Group are still working towards the downtown arena plan.

“The National Capital Commission and RendezVous LeBreton Group remain fully engaged in formal negotiations regarding the group’s proposal for LeBreton Flats,” Tremblay said via email.

An update on the status of negotiations was expected to be announced following the NCC’s board of directors meeting on Jan. 25.

The proposal focuses heavily on the development of a new hockey arena as the centrepiece of a sprawling commercial-residential real estate development near the Canadian War Museum.

Ottawa Senators fans following the team’s potential shift to LeBreton Flats were given reason to doubt the move after Melnyk’s comments late last year regarding the proposed new stadium.

Melnyk sparked an uproar when he suggested that the team may not need to move downtown. He voiced concerns that the current Kanata fan base might fail to transition to the new stadium in Centretown.

The Sens are currently 23rd in the NHL in average game attendance, at 16,268 fans per game, according to espn.com.

The Kanata North Business Association, which represents local businesses in the vicinity of the team’s current home, the Canadian Tire Centre, would miss the economic benefits that the team has brought to the suburb, said Deborah Lovegrove, the association’s marketing and events coordinator.

“It makes sense that a big sports organization would rather be downtown than in the suburbs,” said Lovegrove. “We can’t blame them for wanting to be closer to their target demographic.”

For the Dalhousie Community Association, which represents residents around LeBreton Flats, the arena is just one piece of a larger project.

Association president Michael Powell said he would rather focus on the well-rounded redevelopment of the empty space sitting just 1.5 kilometres west of the capital’s Parliamentary Precinct.

“What will make a successful community in the future as we look to fill a very empty part of central Ottawa is to make sure there is a place that attracts people of all walks of life throughout the year and throughout the day,” Powell said. “That means having a healthy mix of residential space, employment space, and also activity space.”

DCDLS, the second-place bidder for the redevelopment, recently responded to Melnyk’s comments and the lengthy delay since the RendezVous LeBreton Group was named the winning bidder. DCDLS representatives said they are still open to working with the NCC should Melnyk’s group fail to accomplish a deal.