LeBreton Flats redevelopment: Two groups compete for NCC opportunity in central Ottawa

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open house jan 26
Crowds mill around the an RLG site model at the open house at a NCC open house last year

Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Who will win the multi-billion dollar opportunity to redevelop LeBreton Flats?

If the National Capital Commission (NCC) can keep things under wraps we will need to wait until early next year to find out.

However, the two competing proposals, Devcore Canderel DLS Group (DCDLS) and Rendezvous LeBreton Group have the support of big-name and well-funded businesses, and (with the diverse scope and scale of the alliances), we’ll likely hear rumors and indications of the NCC decision once its reviewers complete the evaluation and its board of directors reviews the recommendation in March.

No one is saying how much the project will cost, though Senators owner Eugene Melnyk gave an indication of its scale when he said the estimates to remediate the site are at least $170 million. Representatives of DCDLS said they would like to buy the land from the NCC at fair market value, while RLG representatives, observing that the financial details are supposed to remain under wraps, suggested there could be a variety of options including a possible 99 year lease for some or all of the land.

Both proponents suggest that, as well as an arena, the Ottawa Public Library could relocate to the site, and they advocate for a mixture of residential, commercial, entertainment and community services tied in with the Light Rail Transit (LRT) hub and stations.

You could see the tension crackle at a news conference when Melnyk rebuffed DCDLS’s proposal for an arena and an invitation to negotiate with the Senators to relocate there if their proposal is successful.

“What are they doing?” Melnyk asked. “I haven’t even talked to these people . . . good morning, I have no interest in selling, and no interest in playing in someone else’s arena. It’s also not practical.”

hobin melnyk
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and architect Barry Hobin at a news conference to outline the RLG proposal

However, the RLG’s proposal suggests that, while The Senators expect to be major players in the huge development, the team realizes that other partners will need to develop the key residential, commercial and institutional components of the potentially 22.6 hectare area. (The NCC has opened 9.3 hectares for development, and has “asked proponents for their development planning outlook on a larger area, referred to as option lands, consisting of an additional 12.3 hectares,” it says in background materials.)

(Conceivably, if DCDLS wins the proposal, the negotiations with the Senators could go beyond just providing stadium access or the opportunity to build the arena and central entertainment complex. The overall parcel could be segmented – as RLG has indicated in its own proposal – to allow additional profitable business development opportunities from other partners, such as Senators Sports and Entertainment. However, Melnyk doesn’t want that sort of thinking to gain any traction while the competition to lead the project is in high-gear.)

The main RLG partner, Trinity Development Group, would oversee much of the commercial and mixed use development, with other players including Windmill Developments, Brigil, Mattamy Homes. Other participants include Morley Hoppner, Tomlinson, PCL and GBA (Graham Bird Associates).

Architect Barry Hobin led the RLG presentation when the NCC invited the two proponents to demonstrate their plans on Jan. 26. RLG has other significant architectural supporters including Rossetti, KPMB Architects, Perkins + Will, and Schmidt/Hammer/Lassen Architects.

However, DCDLS also is well-funded and connected. Devcore, based in Gatineau, says it currently has 12 projects in development and nine under construction in Ontario and Quebec, while Canderel has a national background in real estate investment, development and management. Other players include the DLS Group (led by Quebec magnate Andre Desmarais) and Guy Laliberte, founder of the Cirque du Soleil. Local representation is provided by William Sinclair, co-founder and former president of JDS Uniphase and the Mierins family’s Ogilvie Realty. Mierins Automotive Group owns and operates eight car dealerships in the Ottawa area.

Camada sqiare
The “Canada Square” in the DCDLS propoal

The NCC says an evaluation committee with architect A.J. Diamond (Diamond Schmitt Architects), planner and land economist Mark Conway (N. Barry Lyon Consultants) and senior staff members from the NCC will evaluate the proposals, based on rated requirements totaling 140 points.

The proposals have some similarities in part because the NCC, in its request for proposals, suggested certain elements need to be included in the project, including public anchor uses and sustainability. Aboriginal concerns are also important, and the Algonquin Nation is to be consulted before the NCC makes its decision.

The NCC has invited public feedback at its website until Feb. 9.

Early responses indicate that both proposals have some support and some detractors, but much public interest. About 1,000 people showed up at the Canadian War Museum on Jan. 26 when the public was invited for two days to listen to developers’ presentations and ask questions.

The main distinction between the two proposals is the mix of attractions and community amenities.

DCDLS, for example, proposes an auto museum (World Automotive Experience), an aquarium, a skateboard park, and an auto museum, as well as a new public French school, daycare, YMCA and an “air pavilion” providing a simulated skydiving experience.

The central feature of its proposal is the Canadenisis Walk, described as a “four-season linear park stretching the entire length of the development to showcase Canada’s wildly diverse and poignantly beautiful eco-zones across the country.” The developers propose the site will be a key point on the Trans Canada Trail. It will also have a 6,000 sq. ft. bandshell and what it describes as “Canada’s first multimedia museum, the Canada Communications Centre (CCC). There is also a proposal for a Science & Innovation Pavilion/Planetarium.

dcdls overview
Overview of the DCDLS proposal

The RLG proposal on the other hand has less obviously public features, but includes consideration of how to handle the old aqueduct on the site and the problem of the LRT potentially bisecting it. RLG’s proposal creates two levels, building above the LRT with the aqueduct on the lower level.

open house jan 26
Crowds mill around the an RLG site model at the open house on Jan. 26

One innovative feature of the RLG’s “IllumiNATION” plan is the plans for the development of Abilities Centre Ottawa, “an accessible-to-all multi-use sports facility providing unique programming that promotes healthy active,living rehabilitation and recreation, and that will meet the diverse needs of a diverse community, including persons with disabilities and activity limitations.

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