Ottawa developer and philanthropist John Ruddy named 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient

John Ruddy
John Ruddy is the 2017 OBJ-Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. (Photo courtesy the Ottawa Art Gallery).

It’s a rare entrepreneur whose name alone would be enough to convince some of Ottawa’s most astute businessmen to pour their hard-earned dollars into bringing CFL football back to the capital after two previous attempts had ended in financial disaster.

But it’s a measure of the esteem in which John Ruddy is held that he was able to do just that.

The Ottawa native who grew up a few doors down from Rough Rider legend Bobby Simpson and later starred on the gridiron himself at Carleton University went on to make Trinity Development Group a leading force in Canadian real estate before spearheading the successful bid to resurrect pro football in his hometown.

For all his efforts as a community builder, Mr. Ruddy has been named the Ottawa Business Journal-Ottawa Chamber of Commerce 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

The award will be officially presented during the Best Ottawa Business Awards (BOBs) gala at the Westin Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

“At all levels – as a businessman, as a family man, as a philanthropist, as a sports fan, as a supporter of the city of Ottawa – he’s at the top of the class,” says his friend and business partner Roger Greenberg, executive chairman of the Minto Group and one of the men who bought into Mr. Ruddy’s vision for a revitalized Lansdowne Park with a new CFL franchise at its core.

“I know I would not have gotten involved in Lansdowne but for John’s involvement,” says Mr. Greenberg, one of Mr. Ruddy’s partners in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the CFL’s Redblacks as well as the Fury FC soccer club and junior hockey’s Ottawa 67’s.

“He did say that he had an idea that would take a little bit of time, a little bit of money and we’d have lots of fun. It’s not so much what he said, but the person who said it. In my mind, John was always the centrepiece. He just had a gravitas to him and a sense of accomplishment.”

Indeed, Mr. Ruddy’s achievements are impressive by any measure.

After studying architecture at Carleton, he worked in real estate in Toronto for a few years before returning to his hometown and launching Trinity in 1992. Mr. Ruddy spotted the trend toward larger retail outlets early on, putting his company at the forefront of the industry’s shift away from malls and into big-box stores.

Key player in LeBreton Flats

Since then, the firm has developed more than 28 million square feet of retail space across Canada. In addition to taking a leading role in the Lansdowne project, Trinity is also a key player in the group that is negotiating with the NCC to redevelop LeBreton Flats and is a partner in an ambitious plan to build the city’s three tallest mixed-use highrises at nearby Bayview Station.

“We are delighted to honour John Ruddy not only for his outstanding business achievements with Trinity Group, but also for his generous philanthropic work,” says Ian Faris, president and CEO of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. “Mr. Ruddy’s visionary leadership, especially on the revitalization of Lansdowne Park and the re-establishment of CFL football in Ottawa, has created a new legacy for Ottawa, the benefits of which will be felt for years to come.”

Mr. Greenberg says Mr. Ruddy’s laser-like focus and tireless work ethic have allowed him to push through projects like Lansdowne long after lesser men would have abandoned them.

“He put his muscle and his brain power to bear to making it successful,” Mr. Greenberg says. “He’s trying to do the same thing again now with LeBreton Flats, and I have no doubt that at the end of the day, it will be successful as well.”  

Trinity CEO Fred Waks calls Mr. Ruddy “a pioneer in new format retail” who deeply understands the industry and his clients’ needs. But he also points out that his friend is just as dedicated to creating a lasting community legacy in other ways.

Over the years, Mr. Ruddy’s Trinity Development Foundation has donated more than $10 million to local arts, sports and medical institutions, including the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Ottawa Heart Institute, the YMCA-YWCA, the National Arts Centre and St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa among others. In 2015, he chaired a campaign that raised $25 million for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for mental health issues.

Of course, Mr. Ruddy’s other passion – football – has also benefited mightily from his philanthropic efforts. The man most responsible for the CFL’s revival in Ottawa also helped lead the way for the sport to be resuscitated at his alma mater when he donated $2.5 million toward Carleton’s return to Canadian university football in 2013 after a 15-year absence.

“He is one of the finest human beings I know,” Mr. Waks says simply.

Tickets for the gala honouring Mr. Ruddy can be purchased online here.

The BOBs will also celebrate the city’s top business performers in more than a half-dozen categories and recognize the city’s 2017 CEO of the Year, who will be announced next week.

Mr. Ruddy will also take his place in the Plaza of Honour outside the World Exchange Plaza in the new year, where his name will join past recipients including Michael Potter, Shirley Westeinde, Roger Greenberg and John Kelly.