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GARRIOCH: The dream of a downtown arena is getting closer to reality for the Senators


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Somewhere up there in the skies, Eugene Melnyk is smiling broadly.

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The late Ottawa Senators owner lost his battle with an undisclosed illness on March 28, but one of his last acts before his passing was to sign a bid for a new rink at LeBreton Flats before the deadline for the February 28 set by the National Capital Commission for an expression of interest.

He would have been pleased to learn Thursday that the Senators had been awarded preferred bidder status to build a new arena downtown. There’s still a lot of work to do before a final deal is in place, but it’s a big step in the right direction for the organization.

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The Senators first made a bid for LeBreton Flats in 2015 that ended with Melnyk and his partner, Trinity’s John Ruddy, filing lawsuits against each other. This time, the Senators have aligned themselves with a group of people who have expertise in building rinks.

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“It’s no secret the commissioner (Gary Bettman) has said for years, that not only in the Ottawa market, but in any market, having a team near downtown and near your transit hubs is very important to how people consume this type of entertainment,” said Anthony LeBlanc, president of business operations for the club.

“It’s not just hockey, it’s all the events that come with this facility. I would say that is extremely important. The location, and the fact that it’s anchored by two LRT stations on either side of the facility, made it a game changer for us. »

The Senators haven’t determined the size of that rink and there’s no timeline for opening night. There’s a lot of work to be done and it wouldn’t make sense for the organization to try to get stuck with a timeline of when there will actually be shovels in the ground.

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Naturally, NHL headquarters was happy that this first major step had been taken. Bettman told reporters before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Denver that the Senators were considering a new rink at LeBreton Flats, but didn’t shed much light on the bid.

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“That’s obviously good news,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email. “There is still work to be done, but this is a positive step in the process.”

Not only does this secure the future of the franchise in Ottawa, but it means the Senators will be heading to a central location in the city that will be accessible by light rail transit. People can dine downtown, drive to the game, then stop for a cold drink before heading home.

The Canadian Tire Center opened in 1996, but LeBlanc noted that the buildings had a lifespan and the rink was coming to an end. Ottawa fans greeted this news with enthusiasm, as the group formed by the Senators is legitimate and experienced in building rinks.

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No price tag was placed on a new rink, but UBS Arena on Long Island brought in $1 billion. Anyone can guess how much this one could cost and the senators weren’t even about to get into that kind of speculation.

“Every building is different,” LeBlanc said. “What we need to do over the next 12 to 15 months is consult with the fan base and our business partners to see what they are looking for in this facility.”

LeBlanc acknowledged with Live Nation, one of the world’s largest concert promoters, as a partner, that it would make sense for them to have a say in this building as well.

“It’s not just a hockey arena, although that’s the most exciting part from our point of view, it will be a very important event center that will lead to many concerts and multicultural events,” said The White. “We have to talk to our partners and see what they want.

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“It’s a little premature to talk about the cost, but we have an idea of ​​the range it’s in. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the optimism I have to take the next step and the thing is in this process, we focus on what we have expertise in and that is arena building.

If it feels like we’ve been here before, but this time it feels like this deal is going to happen. All you have to do is look at the strength of the partners behind this offering, including Sterling Project Development, Popolous, Tipping Point Sports and Live Nation.

“It’s the right band. It’s the fact that this (earth) is the right piece for us to bite into,” LeBlanc said. “It’s our expertise, we own and operate arenas. The NCC has been very thoughtful in its process on how it moves forward.The partners we have brought together are groups that have done this many times.

“We have the right group of partners together and now is the right time for this to happen.”

The Senators didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but it was a day Melnyk would have been happy to witness.

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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