Ottawa Senators win the bid for LeBreton Flats

Ottawa Sens building
A first look at the proposed new home of the Ottawa Senators at LeBreton Flats. Photo supplied by the NCC.

The National Capital Commission and a group led by the Ottawa Senators NHL hockey team have signed a memorandum of understanding toward the development of a major event centre at LeBreton Flats. 

Capital Sports Development Inc. (CSDI) is proposing to build an NHL hockey arena and events venue surrounded by mixed-use development, located on Albert Street between Preston Street and City Centre Avenue. This site was identified for a potential major facility in the 2021 LeBreton Flats Master Concept Plan, reflecting the feedback of more than 5,000 people who participated in public consultations. 

“This is another important step in the implementation of our Building LeBreton plan: the start of an incredibly exciting and transformative city-building project that will become a landmark and major destination in the National Capital Region. We look forward to working with the team at CSDI to bring this major event centre to life,” said Tobi Nussbaum, NCC CEO, in a news release announcing the MOU.

CSDI’s concept for the arena facility will be developed further over the coming months in a series of “bite-sized, realistic phases” with a “realistic but aggressive timeline,” said the NCC’s board chair Marc Seaman in a public meeting Thursday. 

“The vision is a destination for people to live, work and play,” said Seaman. “People can visit and Canadians can feel at home.” 

“Today’s announcement marks a significant move toward our long-term vision, a downtown arena at LeBreton Flats,” said Anthony LeBlanc, president of business operations with the Ottawa Senators, on behalf of CSDI. “We believe that this development will have a major impact on both the National Capital Region and our franchise, one that will help to shape the future of the city.” 

CSDI’s proposal was presented with the support of Sterling Project Development, a real estate management and advisory group experienced in working with professional sports teams on sports facilities and mixed-use development; Populous, a global firm that has designed major sports facilities, such as Videotron Centre in Quebec City; Tipping Point Sports, a boutique sports finance and advisory firm focusing on public–private partnerships for sports-anchored, mixed-use developments; and Live Nation, a global entertainment company that produces concerts and festivals.

While CSDI elaborates on its concept and creates an implementation plan, the NCC and CSDI will work toward signing a long-term lease agreement by the fall of 2023. That lease agreement will include commercial terms, as well as clear targets related to sustainability, affordable housing and benefits for the Algonquin Nation. In parallel, CSDI will work with the City of Ottawa to secure the required municipal approvals. 

Katie Paris, the director of Building LeBreton for the NCC, said there will be extensive underground parking and that the NCC will work closely with the city to ensure that the surrounding infrastructure can support and accommodate increased traffic. 

Reaction to the announcement was largely positive.

“The Ottawa Board of Trade commends the NCC and Ottawa Senators for working together to create this exciting city building project for our region,” said Sueling Ching, president and CEO of OBoT. “Innovative investments with this level of cultural, economic and social impact attract global interest for investment, talent and entrepreneurship.”

However, some concerns remain.

“It is exciting to see that there is a potential for a new arena at Lebreton Flats; this will be a chance to bring Ottawa into the 21st century with a centrally located arena, accessible by transit and supporting local businesses,” said Toon Dreessen, president of Ottawa-based Architects DCA and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects, in reaction to the news. 

“My concerns would be about what we do with the current arena and the infrastructure investment made around it, including dedicated transit, roads and business investment nearby that is dependent on events there,” he added. “Funding is also a concern; if this proposal includes public-sector funding, as was expected in Calgary, a deal which collapsed earlier this year … we need to take a collective hard look at how this might fit into broader goals for social investment in housing, climate change and public infrastructure.”

The NCC’s request for expressions of interest to seek major attractions at LeBreton Flats was launched in December 2021 and garnered multiple submissions. 

Supporters of moving the Senators’ home closer to the downtown core have long pushed for an NHL-calibre arena to be a cornerstone of the NCC’s long-term plan to redevelop the Flats. 

The NHL team and Trinity Development Group were the NCC’s preferred bidders to build an arena and mixed-use development on the site in a process that was launched a few years ago. But that plan fell apart in 2019 amid legal wrangling between the partners, forcing the NCC to go back to the drawing board.

OBJ readers: Never miss a story like this one. Get OBJ's email updates in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.