NCC shares vision on Sparks Street, LeBreton Flats and Château Laurier projects

Part of a proposed design for the revitalization of Sparks Street. Photo via NCC

The National Capital Commission outlined its role and vision for several major Ottawa building projects – including the controversial Château Laurier addition – on Thursday.

At a media scrum following Thursday’s public board of director’s meeting, NCC chief executive Tobi Nussbaum clarified the Crown corporation’s role in the planned seven-storey, 147-suite addition to the Château Laurier, which last week got the go-ahead from a city committee despite public backlash about its design.

Some had called on the NCC, which oversees the neighbouring Major’s Hill Park, to intervene in the development process, but Nussbaum clarified that the privately owned hotel is beyond its direct authority. He contrasted the Château situation to the organization’s ability to shape the design of the LeBreton Flats redevelopment, which is set to transform federally owned lands west of the downtown core.

“We don’t have the same approval process over a private property,” Nussbaum said.

The NCC will be working with hotel owner Larco Investments to “integrate” the new extension into the nearby park and other public elements, but will not attempt to intercede in Larco’s attempts to get a building permit for the addition.

Nussbaum, who had been an Ottawa city councillor when the addition was first proposed and approved, declined to share his thoughts on the design.

Rendering of the planned addition to the Château Laurier.

Public wants Sparks Street for pedestrians

Just like the Château Laurier’s proposed extension, the public has made its voice clear on Sparks Street: keep cars off. An update during Thursday’s board meeting on plans to revitalize the major downtown corridor showed that 90 per cent of those surveyed wanted Sparks Street to remain a pedestrian mall.

The NCC’s proposal would see Sparks Street becoming a go-to destination for cultural celebrations in the capital. Conceptual designs inspired by public consultation show a focus on public spaces and greenery.

Part of the challenge in crafting a unified plan for Sparks Street is its division between “town and crown”: The street’s northern facade is wholly comprised of federal government buildings while the south side is largely private-owned.

There may be progress on animating the federal properties with new businesses, however. The NCC board meeting heard Thursday that Public Services and Procurement Canada has committed to reserving “most” of its ground-floor properties for “commercial or cultural uses.”

The Sparks Street proposal will seek both federal and municipal government approval this fall. Pending funding commitments from both levels of government, major reconstruction on the revitalization plan could begin in spring 2022.

Sparks St
The NCC's proposal imagines Sparks Street as an all-season cultural destination.
Spark St 2

Infrastructure, remediation costs up in the air on LeBreton

Nussbaum also addressed questions Thursday about the NCC’s vision for LeBreton Flats. The NCC held the first of its public consultation sessions for the vacant lands earlier this week.

Asked whether the NCC is doing anything differently to ensure this round of redevelopment talks go more smoothly than RendezVous LeBreton’s failed attempts these past few years, Nussbaum assured the public the Crown corporation had learned from its latest flop.

One of those lessons appears to be not waiting around for a proponent to plan out the 55-acre space: early public input will inform a draft concept plan for the site, which the NCC will seek additional feedback on in the fall. It aims to receive municipal approval on the plans next year, with development set to begin on a parcel of land next to the site for Ottawa’s new central library.

The piece-by-piece approach to the project leaves some responsibilities on the site up in the air, including whether the NCC or the selected proponents would be tasked with paying for infrastructure expansion and remediation of the contaminated lands. Nussbaum said Thursday that responsibilities for these elements will be addressed in the fall’s draft concept plan.