The Ottawa Senators are one step closer to the downtown home that has eluded them since their inception after the National Capital Commission’s evaluation committee announced Thursday it prefers the RendezVous LeBreton plan to develop LeBreton Flats.
“The main factors that distinguished the highest-ranked proponent are the long-term sustainability of the public anchor use, the strength of the development plan, in particular the connectivity with the city fabric, the distribution of public uses and the potentiality for year-round animation,” the NCC’s executive director of capital planning Stephen Willis told the board.
Mr. Willis delivered the report, which was unanimously approved with one abstention, and said the committee considered the proposed arena’s central location in the development to be a “sound planning decision.”
Mr. Willis also said the committee found the arena to be architecturally impressive, noting the accessible green roof was one of the most popular elements in the public consultation. The committee was also drawn to the commitment to build the arena and several other buildings on the site to a LEED gold standard.
The committee felt the five planned residential neighbourhoods, with 4,400 units in townhomes, mid- and high-rise buildings, were well laid out, Mr. Willis said, while cautioning that there were still issues to discuss as the NCC prepares to enter the negotiating round with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s group.
“The submission lacks contingency plans in the delivery models for some of the elements,” he said. “The level of conditionality and the financial terms proposed by the proponent would need to be addressed in negotiations.”
Mr. Willis said both the RendezVous LeBreton plan and the competing Devcore Canderel DLS proposal passed the committee’s requirements and should negotiations with Mr. Melnyk’s group fail, the NCC is prepared to entertain the possibility of the other bid.
“The identification of the proponent whose submission has achieved the highest score during the evaluation process does not mean an end to the solicitation process or the elimination of the other proponent from the process. It’s simply the next step,” he said. “We’re still very much near the beginning.”
Negotiations for fair market value for the land could be in financial terms or “other public good,” Mr. Willis said.
The timing of land transfers and approvals are among other issues to be negotiated, he said, as well as ensuring connectivity of pathways and universal accessibility across the site.
There will also be more further consultations with First Nations communities, he added.
The negotiation phase promises to be lengthy and very complex, Mr. Willis said, adding it will take more time than originally thought.
“You don’t build a community like this overnight,” he said. But he wouldn’t give Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson a direct answer when the mayor – now officially a non-voting member of the NCC board – asked how long he thinks it will be before work on the development actually begins.
Mr. Watson said it only makes sense to bring the Senators to the city centre.
“If you look around North America today, you see arenas that are in the downtown core, connected directly to public transit,” he said.
During the consultation process earlier this year, Mr. Watson didn’t publicly state his preferred proposal. That changed Thursday, when he said he was always in favour of the RendezVous LeBreton bid.
“I felt that this one was stronger,” he said. “It was more realistic, it was more diverse.”
Mr. Melnyk had said he had no interest in moving the Senators downtown if the RendezVous LeBreton plan was not accepted, but NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson, who also sat on the evaluation committee, said that didn’t factor into the decision.
“The evaluation committee I can say didn’t really consider the hockey politics at all,” he said. “We were looking at city building.”
Mr. Melnyk said his group is anxious to start the negotiations, and is looking forward to working on the collective goal of creating a point of "civic pride" for the city and the country.
“Today’s decision by the NCC puts us considerably closer to our vision of creating a signature destination and a modern urban community to welcome even more visitors to the nation’s capital," he said in a statement.