Us vs. them dynamic forming in LeBreton Flats competition

An us vs. them dynamic is forming in the competition to redevelop LeBreton Flats, and one team is taking some exception.

By Michael Woods.

The RendezVous LeBreton Group, backed by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, has emphasized its local connections and understanding of the city’s history in its bid to redevelop the long-vacant lands west of downtown.

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“You can do it if you’re from outside, sure you can,” Senators president and CEO Cyril Leeder told reporters. “But guys from here really care, and they’ll put in the time and the effort to get it right.”

Added local architect Barry Hobin, also part of the RendezVous team: “Do you care about this place? Do you actually have some passion for it? Or is this just another folder or file number that you have in your portfolio?”

Their rivals, Devcore Canderel DLS Group, are primarily backed by Quebec billionaires André Desmarais and Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil.

Daniel Peritz, senior vice-president of Canderel, said he takes exception to the notion that the group is comprised of outsiders.

“I think it’s a little cavalier for them to take that position,” he said.

For instance, Mr. Desmarais was born in Ottawa and his family has made major contributions to the University of Ottawa. Another backer, Bill Sinclair, is the founder of JDS Uniphase, which employed 17,000 people locally. The local Mierins family is also backing the bid.

In addition, Devcore is based in Gatineau and Canderel has been doing work in the capital for 33 years. And project lead architect Ritchard Brisbin lives and works here.

But Mr. Peritz also said the LeBreton Flats competition shouldn’t be about that.

“This is not a popularity contest,” he said. “This decision should be made based on the merit of the proposals, not who is presenting them.

“If the best proposal came from a Martian and it was the right thing for the city, that’s the decision that should be taken.”

Mr. Peritz also said should his team win the competition, they are open to discussions with Mr. Melnyk about possible ownership of a downtown arena. Mr. Melnyk has said he will not sell the team or move it into an arena he doesn’t own.

“There’s nothing off the table, and you have to have a discussion,” Mr. Peritz said. “We’re ready to talk about anything.”

He said he’s “perplexed” at Mr. Melnyk’s categorical refusal to discuss the matter even if Devcore Canderel DLS Group wins the competition and there’s overwhelming desire for the Senators to play downtown.

“If we say ‘Mr. Melnyk, come in and talk to us. We have a blank sheet of paper, we’re ready to make any type of deal you’d like on the land and have a discussion about it,’ he’s going to say no, and relegate the Senators to stay in Kanata forever? I don’t understand.”

This article originally appeared on on Jan. 27.

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