Business leaders ready to pitch downtown arena to NHL commissioner next week

Ottawa Sens building LeBreton arena
An artist's rendering shows a proposed design for a new NHL arena at LeBreton Flats. File photo

As the sale of the Ottawa Senators moves closer to the finish line, some of the biggest boosters of a new downtown arena for the club will get a chance to express their support for the project directly to NHL boss Gary Bettman next week.

Ottawa Board of Trade president and CEO Sueling Ching and board chair Ian Sherman are among the local business leaders who plan to attend a reception next Monday night at the Canadian Tire Centre featuring Bettman and assistant NHL commissioner Bill Daly as the guests of honour.

Ching said the event prior to the Senators’ matchup with the Florida Panthers will be a chance “to communicate the support of the business community” for a new ownership group and a future arena at LeBreton Flats.

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“We’ve publicly supported the concept of the arena being downtown,” she said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. “We understand the importance of having an (NHL) team in Ottawa, the economic impact of that. Whatever we can do to support advocacy and engagement, then we’re here for that. We consider (a new arena) to be an important economic driver for the future.”

Ching, whose organization represents hundreds of local businesses, said a new home for the Senators at LeBreton Flats is a key part of a “multifaceted approach” to revamping Ottawa’s core in the wake of the pandemic.   

“It’s a revitalization, maybe, but maybe just a reimagination,” she said. “We’ve got lots of important things happening in conjunction with the overall development of LeBreton Flats, the ByWard Market and Lansdowne 2.0.”

It will be Bettman’s first trip to the capital since the COVID-19 crisis. The Senators said the visit is part of “the normal course of business” for the commissioner during his annual tour of the league’s 32 clubs. 

Bettman is also scheduled to sit down with Mayor Mark Sutcliffe as well as National Capital Commission CEO Tobi Nussbaum and chairman Marc Seaman to discuss the future of the Ottawa franchise.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with commissioner Bettman and I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak with him on Monday,” Sutcliffe told reporters on Wednesday. “I think the prospective owners are just as interested in Ottawa as they are in the Senators, which I’m excited about.”

Bettman is known to be a keen supporter of a new downtown arena for the Sens. In a statement late Wednesday afternoon, the NCC, which is overseeing the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, said its officials “look forward to discussing the Building LeBreton project” with the commissioner, adding a new major events centre is expected to be a “key element” of the plan.

Bettman said earlier this month the league expects to have a shortlist of potential owners for the team finalized within “a couple of weeks.” Postmedia reported Tuesday that six would-be suitors plan to visit the city this week to get an up-close look at the arena and the club’s operations.

According to U.S.-based sports publication Sportico, nine different groups have submitted offers to purchase the Senators, with some of the bids exceeding US$900 million.

Sportico’s report said potential owners vying to buy the NHL club include Michael Andlauer, who currently has a stake in the Montreal Canadiens, and a consortium that includes actor and former Ottawa resident Ryan Reynolds and Toronto-based real estate developer The Remington Group. According to Postmedia, Farm Boy CEO Jeff York is assembling a group of investors that will be part of Andlauer’s ownership team.

Sutcliffe was asked on Wednesday whether taxpayer funding would be offered to help build a new arena for the club.

“There’s no question the city’s budget is tight, and there are lots of other priorities, so I’m not a fan of putting city money into an arena, but it depends on so many factors,” he was quoted as saying in a CTV Ottawa report.

“We don’t even know who the new owners are going to be, we don’t know if they want to build a new arena, we don’t know if they would want to do it on LeBreton Flats or they would want to do it somewhere else. There’s a lot of hypotheticals here.”

During last fall’s election campaign, Sutcliffe said he was not in favour of putting public funds into a new building for the NHL team.

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