Update: NCC to start negotiating LeBreton Flats redevelopment with Senators-backed group

LeBreton Flats

One of Ottawa’s largest urban redevelopment projects took a major step forward on Thursday morning, but the start of construction still remains more than a year away.

The National Capital Commission board of directors voted today to officially recognize RendezVous LeBreton as the preferred proponent to redevelop the 53-acre vacant property west of downtown.

The designation means the NCC can start officially negotiating an agreement with RendezVous LeBreton, a process that’s expected to take at least a year.

“People in this region have been waiting 55 years for something to happen at LeBreton Flats. And we’re getting closer to it,” said board member Kay Stanley before voting in favour of the motion.

In April, the NCC announced it preferred the proposal submitted by the RendezVous LeBreton team, which is led by Senators Sports & Entertainment and Trinity Development Group.

It includes a new arena for Ottawa’s NHL team, 4,400 residential units, restoration of the aqueduct and retail space.

Since then, the NCC and RendezVous LeBreton held 22 meeting to discuss “preliminary issues” such as financial terms of the proposal, how much the land is worth, how to remediate the contaminated soil and the timing of the property transfer, among other issues.

“We’re cautiously optimistic because there has been notable progress in these discussions,” said Marco Zanetti, the NCC's director of real estate transactions and development, during a presentation.

While there is no firm timeline for the redevelopment project, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has previously said he’d like the hockey club to be playing at LeBreton Flats by the 2020-21 season.

The NCC board voted unanimously on Thursday to make RendezVous LeBreton its preferred proponent, with one member abstaining.

Before the vote, however, several board members sought reassurances from Mr. Zanetti that they could re-engage with the proponents of the only other bid, Devcore Canderel DLS Group, if negotiations with RendezVous LeBreton fell apart.

The competing organization is backed by Quebec billionaires André Desmarais and Guy Laliberté and proposed a Ripley's aquarium, planetarium and a skydiving wind tunnel as well as a NHL arena.

The group posed several stinging questions to the NCC in an open letter about its evaluation of the RendezVous LeBreton bid, questioning the number of residential units, after it learned its proposal was not the NCC’s preferred pick.

The redevelopment of LeBreton Flats has the potential to completely transform central Ottawa, re-animating a long-vacant prime piece of real estate that will attract thousands of visitors and new residents.

People living in Ottawa have taken a keen interest in the project, turning out in droves to public consultations and completing questionnaires.

However, not all NCC board members - who are supposed to represent the interests of the entire country - share the sense of urgency felt by many Ottawa residents.

“Our land is gold,” said board member Aditya Jha, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from southern Ontario who voted in favour of starting negotiations with RendezVous LeBreton.

“We waited for 50 years and I see now that light-rail is coming … (so) if we have to wait for another 10 years, we’re not going to lose anything much.”