Artists' illustration of planned LeBreton Flats NHL stadium courtesy of RendezVous LeBreton

Delays still ahead for construction of Senators’ new arena at LeBreton Flats

By Sissi De Flaviis Vivas

The Ottawa Senators will move to LeBreton Flats after all, but there could still be some delays in the construction of their new arena.

The National Capital Commission said on Jan. 25 it had finally reached an agreement-in-principle with Rendezvous LeBreton Group for a $4-billion redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, including a new stadium for the Sens.

And Senators owner Eugene Melnyk climbed down recently from controversial comments he made before Christmas that suggested he might even move the team out of Ottawa. Melnyk recently told Canadian Press he is committed to staying in Ottawa and trying to bring home a Stanley Cup.

Originally, the NCC planned to open the arena by 2021, but the deadline is now too tight. The final negotiations of the agreement will take place in the next 12 to 18 months, and the timeline for decontamination of the site also has to be considered.

When asked when construction might start, NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson said it was hard to tell given the need to remediate the site’s soil first.

“We have time for the City of Ottawa to do its diligences and work with a group. And also, we need to continue our discussion with the Algonquin leadership about their participation in the project,” said Kristmanson.

Marco Zanetti, the NCC’s director of real estate, said the plan is to decontaminate the remaining vacant land at LeBreton Flats in stages over the next 15 to 20 years of development.

The site’s soil became contaminated due to decades of industrial use. Kristmanson said he will not go into detail about the condition of the site.

The RendezVous LeBreton project will be divided into two phases, rather than the three that were originally proposed.

Phase 1, which is scheduled to unfold between 2018 to 2032, includes all major public spaces, including the “major event centre” — the NHL arena — as well as public skating facilities and other public facilities. Phase II will stretch until 2036.

The new home for the Senators will be located at the northeast corner of the site, on four of the NCC’s 53 acres of land involved in the deal.  The remaining 49 acres are to be developed into a commercial and residential community by Rendezvous LeBreton.

The arena will be designed to seat 18,000 spectators, according to NCC spokesman Mario Tremblay.

Attendance at Senators home games at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata has been declining and this season alone, the team reduced the size of seating capacity by 1,500.

During the Centennial Classic in the capital, Melnyk threatened to relocate the NHL team outside of the city. However, six days after the NCC’s announcement, during a media tour, Melnyk tried to make peace with Senators fans by saying the team could be successful in Ottawa.

“This project is basically going to remodel the city of Ottawa. It is going to revival a lot of things for the fans to truly be engage,” said Melnyk on Wednesday.

While the arena will be located two kilometers away from Parliament Hill, some fans outside of the Centretown area think it will be a big adjustment.

Rick Thompson, a devoted Senators fan said he’d be okay with centralizing the team, but he argues the new location will be too chaotic for the number of fans in the Ottawa area.

“I think they are going to get more people from the Quebec side and Orleans because it will be more centralized,” said Thompson. “[But] I think it will be a nightmare to come back home from that arena.”

The redevelopment for the LeBreton Flats area will include a light rail train system which will allow those taking public transit to easily travel to and from games.