Watson: No municipal money for downtown Ottawa NHL arena

LeBreton Flats

As negotiations continue to build a new home for the Ottawa Senators at LeBreton Flats, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said local taxpayers will not contribute a cent towards the construction of a new arena.

Speaking on CBC’s Ottawa Morning, Watson referenced a council mandate that directs the mayor and and city manager Steve Kanellakos to “protect” city taxpayers should Senators-backed Rendezvous LeBreton – which is in negotiations with the National Capital Commission to develop the 53-acre property west of downtown – look to access municipal financing.

Watson said Thursday that responsibility of building a new home for the Senators lies in the private sector’s hands.

“We’re not interested in subsidizing an arena … It’s not the public that should be putting tax dollars into that,” he told host Hallie Cotnam.

Watson’s comments come less than a month after Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said the redevelopment of Lebreton Flats is not a given, adding he's not convinced a downtown arena is a necessity for the franchise.

In December, members of the city’s business community heard how Edmonton used a public-private partnership to construct a new NHL arena in Alberta’s capital city. Edmonton taxpayers are footing the bill for roughly half of the arena project’s cost, and officials in that city said residents eventually came around to view the expenditure as “investing into a product that is going to generate revenues which are going to keep your taxes lower and bring new infrastructure and vitality to the city.”

In terms of the LeBreton Flats project, Watson said Thursday that the city will be responsible for the accompanying infrastructure and affordable housing, but the remainder of the development will be commercial space.

He did say that any new arena would likely receive similar benefits to Lansdowne Park, whereby citizens who buy a ticket to see RedBlacks games can take a free trip to the game on OC Transpo.