Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk says he’s not giving up on a downtown arena after the National Capital Commission announced Wednesday that mediation had failed in RendezVous LeBreton’s bid to salvage its partnership to redevelop the prime downtown land.
Judge Warren Winkler, the mediator retained by the RendezVous LeBreton Group, advised the NCC this week that no settlement could be reached. The NCC board of directors will hold a teleconference on Thursday to review the development, which appears to mark the end of RendezVous LeBreton’s bid to redevelop the 55-acre parcel of land west of Ottawa’s core.
Melnyk, who represented Capital Sports Management’s stake in the redevelopment, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that his party participated in the mediation talks “until the very end,” adding he was “devastated” that the “dream has been shattered.”
Melnyk went on to say the team will look for “alternative approaches in central locations” to bring the Sens downtown.
“We are here for the long term and want a world-class venue where Ottawans will live, work, play and enjoy the best the city has to offer. The people of Ottawa deserve this,” the statement read.
Ruddy also released a statement, thanking Winkler.
"While I am disappointed the mediation concluded without success, I would urge the National Capital Commission to move forward on the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats – regardless of whether Trinity Group plays a role or not – given the importance of this redevelopment to our community," Ruddy said.
Bird declined comment. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement that the league "continues to support Mr. Melnyk's efforts to find a solution for the long-term future of the Senators in Ottawa."
Mayor Jim Watson expressed disappointment in Melnyk following Wednesday’s city council meeting. Watson said the controversial owner did not help the cause with some of his comments.
"I said earlier today one of the frustrations I think in this partnership was Eugene Melnyk (and) the very fact that during the NHL outdoor (game at TD Place in Ottawa in 2017), or just before that, was musing about not even going downtown," said Watson, who also is a non-voting member of the NCC board.
"I was pretty livid with him back then. I said, 'Wait a minute. You're putting a lot of time, effort and money into this process and you come out and just muse off the top of your head, 'Well, I'm not interested in moving downtown.'
"The whole purpose was because you wanted to move the arena downtown because there's no walk-up traffic in Kanata (home of the Senators' current arena, the Canadian Tire Centre). You need that kind of walk-up traffic and transit connections to make the arena successful like all arenas in North America are in the downtown core."
The new arena was part of the RendezVous LeBreton Group's proposal for the land controlled by the NCC.
The Crown corporation says it will hold a meeting on March 7 to finalize the process for the future redevelopment of LeBreton Flats.
Watson wasn't ready to eliminate the possibility of an arena being built at LeBreton after Wednesday's development.
“One of the things that's been talked about in the past is that if you don't have the Senators involved, you save the equivalent piece of land for an arena or some other institute of national significance that it can be used (for) and then (Melnyk) might realize that he should be downtown and make overtures to whoever wins the next proposal bid,” Watson said.
The founder of the Senators offered a different suggestion when asked about the future of the NHL's last-place team.
"Reboot the arena (in Kanata) and improve the team," Bruce Firestone said. "Winning cures a lot. Ottawa is a great hockey town. ... Really, this is a tough time for (the) team, there's no question."
Firestone said he approached the NCC about a downtown arena some 30 years ago and was told the plans for that land "did not include a hockey rink, even if it's a very nice hockey rink." So he looked at various other potential sites before settling upon Kanata.
"Our first choice was LeBreton so I was pretty excited when the RendezVous LeBreton plan came out," Firestone said. "I think it's a world-class plan. RendezVous LeBreton wasn't just important for the hockey team, I think it's important for the city and I think it was the best plan and the fact that it's no longer on the table, at least as of today, I think that's a big loss for not only the franchise but also for the city."
Winkler had been presiding over mediation between partners in the RendezVous LeBreton Group: Melnyk, Trinity Development Group founder John Ruddy and GBA development and project management president Graham Bird.
Melnyk's Capital Sports Management filed a $700-million lawsuit against Ruddy and Bird in November. Ruddy, who is also a partner in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group that owns the CFL's RedBlacks, the United Soccer League's Fury and the Ontario Hockey League's 67's, responded with a $1-billion counterclaim.
While filing a statement of defence against Melnyk's lawsuit, Bird got the three parties to agree to mediation in early January. Bird told OBJ last month he was hopeful the groups could come together for the good of the proposed development, which would see the land brought to life with public spaces, residential units and a new downtown arena for the Senators.
“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.”
The Senators have dealt with a long list of negative headlines for on- and off-ice developments since falling one goal short of reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2017. The team sits last in the NHL standings and traded away top forwards Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel for younger players and draft picks before this week's trade deadline.