OTTAWA – The NHL’s Ottawa Senators are one step closer to getting a new arena in their home city.
In a decision franchise owner Eugene Melnyk says ranks higher than his original purchase of the team, the National Capital Commission has accepted a recommendation to negotiate with Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton group to develop a large tract of land in Ottawa’s downtown core.
“I think it’s a huge deal,” Melnyk said shortly after the NCC board of directors accepted the recommendation of a committee set up to study two rival bids for the development.
“It’s certainly the largest thing I’ve ever been involved in.”
Melnyk’s proposal beat a bid by rival Devcore Canderel DLS Group to develop the 21.6-hectare site just west of downtown.
The decision marks the start of negotiations toward a final agreement. If those talks fail, the NCC will start talks with Devcore, the Crown agency said.
Both proposals included a new arena, library and significant residential, commercial and retail space.
But Devcore’s plan also proposed a number of attractions including an aquarium, a planetarium and museums.
RendezVous LeBreton was centred on the arena to bring the Senators to the downtown, away from their current location in the west Ottawa suburb of Kanata, along with a heritage aqueduct and a number of parks and open spaces. It also proposed a new city library be built outside the development area.
Melnyk said the project will forever change the Ottawa cityscape, and ensures a solid future for the Senators in Ottawa.
“I know that we’re going to deliver everything we said we would do,” he pledged.
“I think it’s going to change the landscape of this city, for sure, and it’s going to be a huge, huge win all around.”
At one point during the bidding process, Melnyk had said he would not move his NHL team into an arena that he didn’t own, a statement that called into question the financial viability of his rival’s proposed development.
But NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson told a news conference Thursday that he never felt like the commission had a gun to its head to accept Melnyk’s plan.
“The evaluation committee, I can say, didn’t really consider the hockey politics at all,” said Kristmanson.
“We were looking at city building, how these plans unfold over the decades and have the best chance of creating this great, new neighbourhood.”
If negotiations with Melnyk’s group are successful, a final agreement would still require approval of the federal cabinet.
The commission is a federal agency which administers government lands in the capital area.
The land in question, known as LeBreton flats, was expropriated and cleared in the 1960s, but then lay fallow for decades amid wrangles over how it should be developed.
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