The Ottawa Senators are keeping their options open on a landing spot for a new downtown arena.
The National Capital Commission’s board of directors will meet virtually next Thursday morning and 30 minutes has been set aside on the agenda to provide an update on the Building LeBreton project, which remains a high priority for the organization.
As Postmedia reported last month, Senators’ owner Michael Andlauer and his partners have been given an extension until September by NCC chief executive officer Tobi Nussbaum to get a lease agreement in place to build a new arena on the land 10 minutes west of downtown.
When Andlauer met with his partners after purchasing the Senators, he set up a committee of land development and real estate experts that are focused on next steps for the new rink. Andlauer is a smart, successful businessman, but admits that’s not an area where he has expertise.
The committee includes Senators alternate governors George Armoyan and Paul Paletta, along with Shawn Malhotra of Ottawa-based Claridge Homes. All three bring experience in real estate and business development, so they’ll help Andlauer set the course for the arena’s new home along with club president Cyril Leeder.
There has been a lot of taking place behind the scenes as the Senators try to determine where the next stop will be if they ultimately determine they want to move out of the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata.
Bi-weekly meetings between representatives of the Senators and those negotiating on behalf of the NCC have continued since Andlauer officially purchased the club mid-September with the hope that both sides will be able to announce an agreement in the fall.
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The Senators won preferred bidder status in June 2022 to build on seven acres of land at LeBreton, but the club has requested more space. The original bid called for a rink and hotel, but the Senators would like to build an arena district that’s similar to the one in Edmonton.
The Senators have signed a memorandum of understanding with the NCC and that’s why those talks have been ongoing since 2022. The ownership change meant there was a reset in the discussions with the NCC and LeBreton Flats remains at the top of the list.
That hasn’t stopped the Senators from listening to, and looking at, other options in the city, especially some that have been presented by Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe in the last 12 months.
Sutcliffe has spoken publicly about getting people back to the downtown core after the pandemic. Last week, he got backing for that portion of his mandate in a 116-page report that was prepared a by the Downtown Ottawa Revitalization Task Force.
“This is our moment to rise, to shape a downtown Ottawa that will not only cater to our residents but also attract visitors from near and far,” Ottawa Centre Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi wrote in the report. “We’re determined to boost tourism, reignite economic growth, and transform our downtown into a vibrant and thriving destination.
One of the priorities for the task force to get residents back to downtown is to make a sports venue a priority.
“Incentivize major cultural, sports, and entertainment events to establish a major or satellite presence downtown,” the report said.
The best way to do that is to move the Senators downtown or at least close to it at LeBreton Flats.
An area the report prioritized rebooting was the site where L’Esplanade Laurier currently sits on Bank St. because it will be offloaded by the federal government this year. That’d be a great place to put a new rink, but it only sits on 2.5 acres, which isn’t nearly enough space.
If a place like L’Esplanade Laurier was to be realistic representatives of the city would have to be willing to plow down other buildings to come up with the at least five acres of land necessary for a rink.
Another site mention is the Department of National Defence headquarters near the Rideau Centre, but there’s not a lot of space there, either.
Sutcliffe mentioned several options for a new home for the Senators, one of the top contenders is Bayview Yards, which is located just west of LeBreton Flats and north of Scott Street.
The site is approximately 13.5 acres, which is close to double the size of LeBreton Flats. It’s well served by light-rail transit from the east and west, plus it’s a transfer station from the south.
Sutcliffe has suggested two other areas of town — including the RCGT baseball stadium and a site near Hurdman Station — and both make sense but are further from downtown if that’s the priority.
We’re told behind closed doors all this discussion about other sites by Sutcliffe has created a sense of urgency on behalf of NCC officials to try to get a deal in place with the Senators.
Let’s face it, a rink would be the centre piece to attract people to LeBreton Flats and though the NCC likely has a Plan B it really doesn’t want to have to go that route.
There’s fierce competition taking place off the ice as well.