Firestone commends Sens for eyeing Lebreton Flats as potential new home

The man who spearheaded the effort to bring NHL hockey to Ottawa nearly 25 years ago said Wednesday the Ottawa Senators’ current owner deserves credit for considering a plan to build the team’s next home downtown at Lebreton Flats.

“I think that you have to be thinking about the next generation,” said Bruce Firestone. “Most of these buildings are built with a 25-35-year life expectancy. This is not the pyramids we’re building here.”

The Canadian Tire Centre is approaching its 19th birthday in January. Mr. Firestone said it could be anywhere from seven to 10 years before any new development gets underway at Lebreton Flats, so the time to think about such a move is now.

The NCC announced in late September it was inviting the private sector to submit proposals for a world-class, inspirational destination for up to 21.4 hectares, or 52.9 acres of land, at Lebreton Flats. The original deadline was Dec. 5, but citing “a greater expression of interest than expected” and requests from developers for more time, the NCC extended that deadline to Jan. 7.

The Senators issued a statement late Tuesday saying they are one of the groups interested in the opportunity to develop the site.

Mr. Firestone, a real estate broker and professor who also writes a regular column for OBJ, has written previously about why Lebreton Flats wasn’t an option for the club when it was looking for its first permanent home.

But a lot has changed since then, he said. “I think their chances are pretty good.”

Back then, he said, the city lacked adequate public transportation to move people to and from a downtown arena. But Ottawa’s new light-rail system is slated to be up and running by 2018 with a stop at Lebreton Flats.

That would be a game-changer, Mr. Firestone said. Not only could people enter and leave the arena more efficiently, but more fans arriving via public transit would mean the site would require a much smaller area for parking than the 7,000-vehicle lot at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Another factor, he said, is an apparent shift in the NCC’s vision for the land.

“About a year and a half ago, a very, very senior official at the National Capital Commission told me that their views about community building had changed in the last generation,” Mr. Firestone said. “The views that they embraced at the time that we were looking for a site to build the Palladium and what they think today are quite different, and the decision-making would be different and I think that’s what started this whole process of what are we going to do with Lebreton Flats.”

While the NCC might still favour a public institution as an anchor for the site, Mr. Firestone said there is no reason why such a building couldn’t co-exist with a new arena.

Current Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has made no secret of his feelings that he needs non-hockey revenue to help keep the Senators going. A Lebreton Flats development would certainly fit the bill, Mr. Firestone said, adding a repurposed Canadian Tire Centre would be another winner for Mr. Melnyk.

“I could imagine turning that building into a 650,000-square-foot Superstore right next to the Tanger Mall with a 7,000-vehicle parking lot,” he said. “I think it would be a real good reuse of the building, and I would guess Eugene Melnyk would do quite well with that building.”