New Capital Build Task Force looking to foster millennial-friendly Ottawa

LeBreton Flats
A rendering of the NHL arena proposed for the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats.

Business and community leaders in Ottawa have assembled as a new task force hoping to put some momentum behind the city’s transformational developments and attract more millennial workers to the capital.

The Ottawa Chamber of Commerce officially unveiled the Capital Build Task Force at an event last week. The group is currently focused on five main city-building priorities, with the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats chief among them.

Co-chair Doug McLarty, who is also a partner at MNP Ottawa, says the idea to unite the voices of Ottawa’s business leaders on the city’s future developments first came up after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman visited the city last year to announce this past season’s outdoor hockey game at Lansdowne Park.

After the announcement, Bettman met with McLarty and a dozen other people to talk about the shifting landscape in hockey towns across the league. Only a few arenas were outside of the downtown core, he was saying, with Ottawa among these outliers.

That’s an issue for getting the younger generation out to games, as millennials are increasingly living downtown and less interested in driving than their parents were. Businesses and city planners alike will therefore have to shift their offerings to cater to the now-maturing generation.

“Millennials are basically going to be in the driver’s seat in the coming years,” McLarty says. “Having him talk about that, it was very clear that what he was saying was, ‘It’s important for Ottawa to move its facility to the core of the city.’”

The overarching theme for the task force, McLarty says, is building a millennial-friendly city. He mentions his own children who have left for Toronto and New York, and expresses a desire to make Ottawa into a town they’d be proud to visit or make a home in. Realizing the potential of LeBreton Flats or crafting a world-class library like the one in Halifax will make Ottawa stand out to this generation, McLarty suggests.

There are a few ways the task force could help get these projects built. McLarty says he’d like to see more events like the visit from Edmonton economic development officials last December. Rick Daviss and Bob Black, two of the men behind that city’s $600-million Rogers Place arena, spoke at Ottawa’s Economic Outlook about the controversies and potential payoff of using public funds to subsidize such a development.

McLarty also says the task force will break off into subcommittees that will “tell the story” of projects important to Ottawa’s economy. For example, he says he’d like to see a healthcare leader work with the task force to illustrate the economic impact of research at the Ottawa Hospital as construction of the new Civic Campus gets underway.

While the task force is still recruiting, on board so far are leaders from Ottawa’s business, academic, philanthropic, construction and tourism industries, alongside representatives from First Nations and French-speaking communities. Ottawa Business Journal publisher Michael Curran and Mark Sutcliffe, CEO of parent company Great River Media, are both members.

Capital build
Members of the Capital Build Task Force, with Mayor Jim Watson at the centre.

Also on board is Samuel Gregg-Wallace, chief of staff to Shopify’s chief operating officer Harley Finkelstein. The local e-commerce giant has generously offered to host the task force’s first big meeting in the coming weeks, which is helpful, because the group doesn’t have an official source of funding yet.

The group is bootstrapping itself in the early goings, with McLarty himself putting down the cost of hosting the task force’s preliminary meeting at Bayview Yards. With a firm belief in the city’s future, he says he doesn’t mind putting his money where his mouth is.

“I’m so pumped about this city. I think we’re at a stage where it’s ours for the making,” he says.

Capital Build Task Force’s top five city-building priorities:

  1. LeBreton Flats redevelopment
  2. Train line between Ottawa and Gatineau
  3. Civic Hospital redevelopment
  4. Revitalized ByWard Market
  5. Federal employment node in Orléans