Building a hockey arena downtown is the ‘right move,’ Andlauer says

Ottawa Senators crowd cheering Stanley Cup

Michael Andlauer, new owner of the Ottawa Senators, says there appears to be consensus among local officials and fans that building a new hockey arena downtown is the right move.

“It’s my gut feeling that says it’s the right thing,” Andlauer said at the Mayor’s Breakfast Thursday, where he was the featured guest. 

“It seems that people want the arena to be downtown; that seems to be the initial feedback that I have. Certainly the (National Capital Commission) desires it and we have spoken about it. Our fans seem to feel that way as well. So there’s alignment.”

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Andlauer said he didn’t want to go into detail on future plans that are not yet decided. Because real estate is not his area of expertise, he said he’s working with local real estate developers to consider the options. 

“It’s a matter of working collaboratively and doing what’s right,” he said. “For me, that’s all I’m going to focus on: what’s right for fans and everything will fall in place. Feedback is critical and I get the feeling that there’s no opposition; there doesn’t seem to be pushback.”

One well-known local developer Andlauer mentioned was Roger Greenberg, executive chairman of the board for Ottawa real estate company Minto Group.

“(Greenberg) is looking at doing what’s right for the city,” said Andlauer. “We’re working collaboratively to make this happen.”

Andlauer was officially introduced as the new owner of the Ottawa Senators last month at the Canadian Tire Centre. At that time, he said the Senators may still be playing out of the Canadian Tire Centre in five years due to the pace at which government decisions move. But in the interim, he is committed to investing in the existing building.

The good news, Andlauer explained, is that many of the city’s key stakeholders are committed to moving it to a more central location.

“One of the first goals is on the real estate side,” Andlauer said in September. “We’ve got the (National Capital Commission) with maybe the best piece of land (LeBreton Flats) in the inner city, probably in North America, available for development.

“The mayor wants it (moved). The NCC wants it. The fans want it. We’re all pointed in the same direction. It’s a matter of collaborating and seeing what works.”

In March, prominent Ottawa business leaders told OBJ they believe LeBreton Flats remains “the destined choice” for a downtown NHL arena, even as chatter that other sites could be in the running for the Senators’ new home grew louder.

While LeBreton Flats has long been considered the clear-cut favourite to host the Senators’ new home, talk of alternate locations heated up when Mayor Mark Sutcliffe suggested the prime parcel of development land just west of downtown “is not the only option” for a new rink.

The mayor doubled down on that stance Thursday afternoon, telling a crowd at the Ottawa Real Estate Forum that “shifting” in the downtown office market in the wake of the pandemic has opened up new opportunities for the Senators to look at alternative sites for a new home.

Sutcliffe said the federal government’s push to offload aging office buildings amid a move to hybrid work could make new pockets of land available for redevelopment in the heart of the city.

“The federal government five years ago was expanding and its employees were coming downtown five days a week,” he said. “I think things have changed enough that we need to look at at least the option of putting the Senators’ arena right in downtown Ottawa, the way it is in Montreal, the way it is in Toronto.

“Maybe for the first time in a generation, we have an opportunity to look at options downtown because the federal government is downsizing (its office footprint).”

Sutcliffe said arenas have revitalized downtowns in cities like Edmonton, where a new arena for the NHL’s Oilers opened in 2016, and he believes the same thing can happen in Ottawa.

“I think we owe it to ourselves to consider downtown as an option because downtown needs another attraction,” he told an audience of about 800 real estate executives at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre.

“The opportunity to create that excitement and vibrancy in downtown Ottawa I think is a game-changer for our city. It’s all very, very early in the process, so I’m dreaming a little bit here, but we have to at least give it a shot.”

Sutcliffe later told OBJ he hasn’t discussed specific downtown sites with Andlauer yet. He said city officials and the new ownership group have “the potential to collaborate and work together” to determine the best location for the Sens’ next home.

“LeBreton Flats is an excellent opportunity, and if that’s where the Senators decide to go, then I respect that and support it,” he said in an interview. “But I think we at least have to put some other options on the table because this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“We’re prepared to look at whatever (land) is available. There might be some government land, there might be some private land. There’s shifting in the marketplace, so when you see that kind of movement in the marketplace, it opens up opportunities.” 

Andlauer, who also spoke at the real estate forum Thursday afternoon, said he’s open to considering other locations besides LeBreton Flats.

“We’re going to sit down together, as many people as possible, and see what makes sense for the city of Ottawa,” he told OBJ. “That’s how I see it. And if the fans want it, it’s worth doing.

“I can’t really elaborate more until we start understanding locations. I’ve had discussions with the NCC – obviously, there’s more discussions (coming). We have exclusivity (on negotiating with the NCC) for the next year. We’re looking forward to looking at everything that’s going to make (the) best (site) for our fans.”  

Meanwhile, Andlauer was also announced as the Newsmaker of the Year for 2023 by the Ottawa Business Journal and Ottawa Board of Trade. 

“(I) realize what a privilege it is to be the owner of a team,” Andlauer said in his conversation with the mayor on Thursday morning. “With that privilege comes responsibility and I feel that responsibility. This is not a toy. It’s my passion, but I realize this is more than just a hockey team.” 

He added, “We’ll take it one day at a time; it’s a process. The passion is there. I’ve never taken so many selfies over the last couple of weeks. But you know, I want to take some selfies on the ice with the Stanley Cup.”

– With additional reporting from David Sali

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