Ottawa Senators founder says it’s too soon to celebrate arena deal

The dream of an arena in downtown Ottawa has been resurrected thanks to a new agreement announced Thursday.

While some city officials swear this time will be different, the man who founded the Ottawa Senators warns it’s too early to celebrate.

Bruce Firestone said he wanted to build a home for the NHL team at LeBreton Flats 30 years ago, but the head of the National Capital Commission (NCC) at the time told him it wasn’t. would ever happen.

Now, just three and a half years after a previous Sens-backed project for the site collapsed amid dueling lawsuits, Firestone said he hopes those involved have learned from the experience.

“When dealing with … the National Capital Commission, whose nickname, incidentally, is the ‘Club Without Commitment,’ you have to be careful when you clap and cheer and congratulate yourself for making a deal” , did he declare.

The goal to see an arena near downtown has had many false starts, according to Firestone, although he said there were signs this latest plan could be the start of something new.

“I suspect so, but the proof is in the pudding.”

The NCC announced Thursday that it has re-signed an agreement to build a new arena and mixed-use development on approximately three hectares of LeBreton Flats along Albert Street and between Preston Street and the City Center Ave.

The former working-class neighborhood was bulldozed in the 1960s to make way for federal development that never happened.

The bid by Senators-led Capital Sports Development Inc. “checked all the boxes,” said NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum.

Ottawa morning10:42Ottawa Senators reach new deal with Lebreton Flats

Tobi Nussbaum is the CEO of the National Capital Commission.

While plans are still being developed, the NCC said it has set a goal in the fall of 2023 to complete a long-term ground lease.

The city will also have to approve the plans. A timetable for the project was not provided, but officials described it as both realistic and “aggressive”.

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This lack of detail raised red flags for Moseh Lander, a sports economist and lecturer at Concordia University.

He said LeBreton Flats is “the perfect place” for an arena, especially given the nearby LRT access at Bayview and Pimisi stations.

Bayview is where the Confederation Line and the Trillium Line meet and will have a pedestrian connection to Gatineau when the Chief William Commanda Bridge is ready.

However, Lander pointed to the fact that a design, a price tag and a breakdown of who will cover what costs have yet to be provided and said he hasn’t seen any evidence of lessons learned from the latest deal.

“It could easily drag on for another five years, seven years; I mean we could be talking about 2030 being the Sens opening night,” Lander said. “All they have at this point is that the location has been chosen.”

The professor used the collapse of Calgary’s $600million arena deal as a cautionary tale and said deals can get contentious unless there is transparency and real partnership between all parties involved.

The city cannot be held hostage

Lander also said sports teams sometimes try to hold cities “hostage” by saying that if they don’t pay to fund an arena, the franchise will leave.

He warned advisers they should “get involved” and insist that no money will go to the project.

“From an economic perspective, I can say almost unequivocally that government money never pays off if it’s invested in arenas and stadiums,” Lander said. “The only thing it does is make the rich richer.”

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Moshe Lander, sports economist at Concordia University, says that while LeBreton Flats is an ideal location for an NHL arena, there’s still a lot of work to be done to avoid repeating the failures of the previous plan, which s collapsed in 2018.

Somerset councilor and mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney called the arena deal “good news”, noting it would be just 60 yards from their home.

“It’s public land, it’s leased to senators, we expect a public benefit from it, and we hope they’ll be able to fund this venture on their own,” they told CBC Radio. all in one day Thursday.

One thing that’s different from the deal that fell apart in 2018 is that this piece of land is much smaller, which McKenney and others have said makes it much more manageable than dealing with the whole site.

“It’s the difference between pushing a rock up a cliff and carrying a bunch of rocks in your pocket one at a time,” they said.

Mayor Jim Watson also supports the plan.

“We were very excited when the first proposal came in and then very disappointed when it fell apart. Now we’re back and I think we have a winner here.”

This June 2022 rendering of a planned Ottawa Senators arena at LeBreton Flats is subject to change. (Capital Sports Development Inc.)

A chance to fix a “false history”

Firestone also referenced that difference, though he said the fact that the Senators’ current Kanata residence includes full development was a positive.

“I don’t need to tell you how important ancillary revenue is,” said Firestone, who said businesses, sports medicine clinics and land sales helped defray the costs of the Canadian Center. Drawn.

This arena was built for around $240 million in what was then his own city, the founder said. He and Lander estimated that a new one would cost around $1 billion.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, whom Mayor Jim Watson described as difficult to deal with during past arena negotiations, died in March.

Firestone said Melnyk’s hand was still behind efforts to relocate downtown and his daughters Anna and Olivia wanted to rebuild the team’s relationship with the community and fans.

The man who founded the Senators said he also wanted to see them play downtown.

“It’s really going to right, in my view, a historic wrong.”

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