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Ottawa Senators win bid for downtown arena on LeBreton Flats

While the hockey arena was the centerpiece of Thursday’s announcement, the NCC will also begin accepting offers next week for a new mixed-use residential development on Wellington Street across from the Canadian War Museum.

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After decades of inaction — and an embarrassing mulligan in its latest attempt to bring the Ottawa Senators downtown — the National Capital Commission appears to have finally found the winning formula for LeBreton Flats.

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Thursday’s announcement of a memorandum of understanding to lease land for a new arena to Capital Sports Development Inc., a Senators-run company with a host of deep-pocketed partners, was presented by the NCC as “a transformational moment of city building” that will fundamentally change downtown Ottawa.

If all goes well, the arena will be built on a 7.5-acre parcel of land on Albert Street between Preston Street and the city center, just west of the site of Adisoke, the new central library in ‘Ottawa, currently under construction.

While the hockey arena was the centerpiece of Thursday’s announcement, the NCC will also begin accepting offers next week for a new mixed-use residential development on Wellington Street across from the Canadian War Museum.

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This project, known as the Flats District, will see up to 800 new homes in six-storey blocks with 12-20 storey recessed towers. The housing will be modeled after neighborhoods in the Netherlands with narrow, curbless streets and a central aqueduct that currently flows underground through the area.

The housing development will include affordable housing and an agreement to provide economic benefits to suppliers and workers of the Algonquin Nation, on whose unceded land the development is located.

The NCC will be accepting land lease offers from developers from June 29 to October 5. It hopes to start signing deals in early 2024, with construction starting towards the end of 2024.

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Mayor Jim Watson, who sits on the NCC’s board of directors and has compared the LeBreton Flats saga to the movie Groundhog Day, praised the deal.

“Nothing is easy with LeBreton Flats,” Watson said. “But, in the end, the NCC presented a realistic plan.”

“The easiest thing to do when things went wrong the last time would be to grab your notepad and checkbook and walk away. And you didn’t do that.

A previous deal to bring the Senators downtown ended angrily in 2018 with lawsuits and countersuits between the team’s former owner, Eugene Melnyk, and his partner in the deal, the businessman John Ruddy.

“This is an opportunity for us to thank the Senators for not abandoning this proposal,” Watson said Thursday.

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Somerset Ward County. Catherine McKenney, whose home “is about 100 feet” from the arena site, said she was excited about the proposal and what it would mean for the city.

“The last proposal was to turn over the entirety of LeBreton Flats to one group,” McKenney said. “This process is much more manageable and I think it will translate to much better results. It will be more organic and it will be much more diverse.

“I feel like finally, finally, there is a plan to get LeBreton Flats moving.

McKenney praised the NCC’s plans for the apartment district.

“This is exactly the type of neighborhood we envision in our new official plan. People can live there, they can visit, they can work there. And if they don’t work there, they can take the train to get to work. It really is the type of neighborhood we need to build everywhere.

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George Brown, a lawyer who advises housing advocacy group Acorn Ottawa, also called Thursday’s announcement exciting.

“I’m all for building and scaling up, but regardless, we have to find something that works for everyone.”

Brown, a rabid hockey fan, said the NCC will need to strike community benefit agreements to ensure everyone is served by the development.

“Previously, we relied on trickle-down and assumed everyone was going to benefit,” Brown said. “We now know it doesn’t work. There has to be affordable housing, employment equity. for special apprenticeships so that you have groups that have not traditionally been in the relevant trades.

“The devil will be in the details,” Brown said.

Toronto NCC board member Michael Foderick said Thursday’s deal could transform downtown Ottawa the same way the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Air Canada center transformed downtown -city of Toronto.

“This will fundamentally change the nature of downtown Ottawa for the better,” Foderick said. “We’re going to see new residential units in a part of town that needs that nightlife, that 24-hour presence. I’ve seen how it’s transformed downtown Toronto. These residential units provide light around the clock, not just during office hours.

“Just when the office workers leave, that’s where the hockey fans come in. They arrive with their sweaters and their children. They come for a bite to eat and they have fun downtown. It brings all that element of life to the downtown area.

The exact details of the arena deal will be worked out over the next few months. Thursday’s announcement did not include funding details for the arena project or a timeline for when it would be completed.

Read also: LeBreton Flats: Who’s who in the new Sens Arena

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