Ambitious bids for prime piece of national capital include NHL arena, museums

By , on January 26, 2016

Artist's rendition of the proposed renovation of Le Brenton Flats (Twitter photo).
Artist’s rendition of the proposed renovation of LeBrenton Flats
(Twitter photo).

OTTAWA—From a derelict downtown brownfield to an urban playground complete with NHL arena, museums, and European-style plazas—Ottawa’s long-ignored LeBreton Flats is on the cusp of transformation.

Two ambitious bids for the 9.3-hectare space were made public Tuesday by the National Capital Commission in a presentation that was almost Disneyesque.

“The skyline shimmers, the future unfolds before your very eyes, a community is reborn and it shines like never before,” declared a video by the Rendezvous LeBreton group, which includes the owner of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators.

Both proposals include an arena, a new public library, major outdoor gathering spaces and residential space.

The Rendezvous bid, called “Illumination LeBreton,” would emphasize public spaces around a currently hidden aquaduct and inlet, a “Canada House” gathering place for visiting military, a rooftop forest with holographic evening show, and an innovation pavilion.

The rival “LeBreton Re-Imagined” plan, backed in part by financiers Andre Desmarais and Guy Laliberte of the DCDLS Group, is anchored by a winding “Canadensis” linear park that is supposed to highlight 14 of Canada’s ecological zones.

It includes a beer museum, a media museum, a “World Automotive Experience,” a planetarium, a skatepark, an aquarium, a YMCA and a school.

“We believe in our proposal because we think that we’ve struck the right chord in regards to a balance between city building and nation building,” said Daniel Peritz, vice-president of Canderel, another member of the DCDLS group.

“This land, which is treasured land for the city of Ottawa and for the nation’s capital, still remains in the public’s hands and is accessible to the public.”

But there is a major wrinkle in the Canadensis proposal: Senators owner Eugene Melnyk says he’s not selling his team, and won’t move into someone else’s building.

“Economically, you just can’t justify building an arena when you have one, just for the sake of building an arena—even if the land was given to us,” Melnyk said later.

“You have to have all the infrastructure around you to pay for your team.”

If the team doesn’t win the bid, it will be looking at a nine-figure renovation of its current home in suburban Ottawa, the Canadian Tire Centre.

For its part, the Canadensis group says it would open discussions with Melnyk should its bid win.

LeBreton Flats was once home to a working-class neighbourhood and light industry that was bought and torn down by the federal government in the 1960s. It is across the from the Canadian War Museum and the Ottawa River.

The contaminated land sat idle for decades while successive governments balked at making the investment necessary to get it ready for development.