Future of LeBreton Flats, ByWard Market explored at City-Building Summit

Zifkin
Aaron Zifkin, managing director of Lyft in Canada, onstage at the City Building Summit.

The future of LeBreton Flats, major infrastructure projects such as a potential new interprovincial bridge and the revitalization of the ByWard Market are just some of the items on the agenda at today’s City-Building Summit hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade.

In the first keynote address of the day, new National Capital Commission CEO Tobi Nussbaum told the audience at Lansdowne Park’s Horticulture Building the federal Crown corporation that owns LeBreton Flats remains open to proposals for a “major events centre” at the undeveloped swath of land just west of downtown.

Nussbaum said the NCC is seeking input from urban developments around the world – such as HafenCity, a district near the port of Hamburg, Germany, that has been revitalized over the past decade with the addition of a new concert hall, shops and office space – in an effort to come up with the best mix of residential and commercial elements for the Flats.

Responding to criticisms about the NCC’s plan to subdivide the Flats into parcels of land, Nussbaum said “there is nothing piecemeal” about the agency’s redevelopment strategy. A phased-in approach makes sense, he told the crowd, because the NCC can’t rely on a “single actor” to spearhead such a massive project.

The NCC’s recent attempt to revitalize the long-vacant lands fell apart earlier this year when preferred proponent RendezVous LeBreton – a consortium led by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Trinity Development Group’s John Ruddy – failed to come to terms on the massive project, which included visions of condo towers and a new downtown arena for the Sens. Ruddy and Melnyk’s partnership dissolved into litigation at the end of 2018 over unresolved issues concerning Trinity’s nearby residential development at 900 Albert St.

Nussbaum added Wednesday that he’s planning to meet with City of Ottawa planning boss Steve Willis shortly to discuss how the federal agency, the city and all levels of government can work together on the project.

“We can’t do it alone,” he said.

ByWard Market potential

The spotlight of the full-day conference later turned to the ByWard Market with a panel discussion on the future of the iconic downtown tourist area.

John Borsten, the owner of Zak’s Diner and a longtime restaurateur in the Market, said the neighbourhood’s business potential has never been greater. But he said there needs to be a push to upgrade the Market’s infrastructure and improve security in the neighbourhood, which has been the site of several highly publicized killings and other violent crimes in recent years.

More research needs to be done to find out what types of attractions tourists and local residents want to see in the Market, added Catherine Callary, vice-president of destination development at Ottawa Tourism and a member of the Ottawa Markets board of directors.

The Market draws millions of visitors a year, Callary noted, but she said the city can’t afford to rest on its laurels if it wants the area to remain vibrant. She said efforts to make the Market more pedestrian-friendly such as the recent pilot project to convert a one-block stretch of William Street into a car-free zone will be a “good test” for future initiatives.

“We can infuse a lot more programming, authenticity (in the Market),” she said. “We have a long road to go.”

Architect Barry Padolsky argued the Market needs to make more of an effort to return to its roots as a showcase for agricultural produce. The existing farmers’ market is “on the brink of extinction,” he told the audience, when it should be a core attraction that brings in tourists and residents from across the city.

Follow @obj_news on Twitter as the City-Building Summit continues to unfold Wednesday afternoon.