Ottawa Senators' COO shoots back at Watson over LeBreton comments

Watson
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

The Ottawa Senators fired back at Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson after he told reporters on Wednesday the NHL team wanted the city to pay for an arena as part of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment.

Senators chief operating officer Nicolas Ruszkowski said Watson's comments were "disappointing and inaccurate."

The dispute between Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and RendezVous LeBreton Group partner John Ruddy made headlines last Thursday when the National Capital Commission said the group needed to resolve their internal issues by January or else the Crown corporation would have to consider other options for LeBreton Flats, west of downtown. The following day, Melnyk filed a $700-million lawsuit against Ruddy and others, saying the joint venture failed because of an "egregious conflict of interest on the part of Trinity (Group) and its principal, John Ruddy."

Watson weighed in on the issue again Wednesday, prompting a response from Ruszkowski.

"At city hall's own urging, the partners in RLG took part in preliminary discussions that were characterized as strictly exploratory," Ruszkowski said. "This was because city hall had not yet received a mandate from Council to officially begin negotiations with RLG at the time. In that context, numerous options for the development of the site were discussed; including, for instance, the adoption of Edmonton's arena development model. When informed that this was impossible, RLG moved on. At no time did (Capital Sports Management Inc., a company owned by Melnyk) or Eugene Melnyk demand the city build an arena."

Ottawa’s Economic Outlook in 2017 featured a keynote address the key figures involved in Edmonton’s public-private partnership to build a new home for the Oilers hockey team. Edmonton’s point man on its publicly subsidized arena, Rick Daviss, told OBJ ahead of the annual event that it’s a tough sell to taxpayers but he believes major sports venues have the ability to breathe new life into a city’s economy.

Ruszkowski also brought up the last major stadium issue in Ottawa, the development of Lansdowne Park. The area includes TD Place, home of the five-year-old CFL Redblacks, of which Ruddy is a part owner.

"It is worth noting that the mayor's remarks suggest a double standard. While he is adamant that government support will not be extended to build an NHL arena, during his tenure as mayor, he has supported the City of Ottawa's funding of roughly half of the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, at a cost of about $210 million."

– With files from OBJ staff