This story was updated with comments from Graham Bird.
The feuding partners in the LeBreton Flats redevelopment have entered mediation in a last-ditch effort to salvage the project before the National Capital Commission officially terminates the deal later this month, according to a key player in the negotiations.
Graham Bird, project manager for RendezVous LeBreton Group, released a statement Friday saying that John Ruddy’s Trinity Development Group and Eugene Melnyk’s Capital Sports Management had entered into mediation alongside Bird’s firm to resolve the issues in the partnership.
Warren Winkler, a former chief justice of Ontario, has been asked to mediate for the parties.
Bird added that he had filed a statement of defence against CSMI’s $700-million lawsuit launched last November – the move that triggered a domino effect of litigation between the RendezVous LeBreton partners. At the crux of CSMI’s lawsuit was an alleged conflict of interest related to Trinity’s planned mixed-use development at nearby 900 Albert St., which the statement of claim said made LeBreton’s residential component unsustainable.
The NCC, which owns the prime vacant land west of Ottawa’s downtown, said last month it would officially end its deal with RendezVous to take on the proposed development that would see a mix of residential units, public spaces and a new arena for Melnyk’s Ottawa Senators.
The parties have yet to decide on a date to come together for the mediation, but time is short. The NCC has until Jan. 19 – 30 days from its termination notice – to change its mind or else RendezVous is officially done. The NCC did not respond to requests for comment as to whether they would reconsider its decision in light of mediation talks.
It’s this tight timeline that has pushed the feuding partners back to the table, Bird told OBJ on Friday. Asked whether he believes the two groups can reconcile their differences in a matter of days, Bird acknowledged LeBreton has become an “emotionally charged project” but said his faith is in the strength of the proposal itself.
The development partners, the NCC and a variety of municipal groups and stakeholders all agreed that RendezVous LeBreton’s proposal was the best option at the time of the original procurement in 2016 – and Bird argued the work put in to build that consensus should not be allowed to go to waste.
“That's what I hope everybody will recognize, that we've got a wonderful, wonderful solution for … LeBreton Flats,” he said. “We’ve just got to find a moment to calm down and see if we can find a way through it.”
Melnyk seemed to extend an olive branch to Trinity last month, proposing a new ownership structure that would see CSMI give up its stake in the majority of the development in exchange for a deal that would allow the Senators to play in the new downtown arena rent-free. A spokesperson for the developer responded by saying that Melnyk was asking for “a free arena courtesy of local taxpayers and Trinity.”
‘Huffing and puffing’
Though LeBreton Flats may be his biggest challenge yet, Bird is no stranger to massive Ottawa projects. His firm played a role in the development of the Shaw Centre, the international airport and Lansdowne Park among other large-scale projects.
Though the billion-dollar lawsuits are a new level of animosity, Bird said nothing worthwhile gets built in Ottawa without some degree of conflict, citing Lansdowne as a prime example.
"Ottawa is a very interesting place to develop. Every large scale project in this city takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of patience."
“That was not done without a lot of huffing and puffing and screaming and yelling, right? But it was worth, at the end of the day, going through that,” he said.
“Ottawa is a very interesting place to develop. Every large scale project in this city takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of patience.”