SENS ARMY IS DROOLING OVER THE PROSPECT THAT THE SENATORS WILL GET A NEW HOME ON LEBETON FLATS. HERE ARE FIVE REASONS WHY THEY SHOULDN’T GET THEIR HOPES UP
Back in December the National Capital Commission announced it was donating 21.5 hectares of land on Lebreton Flats for development, and it would be accepting proposals from organizations and businesses for developing that parcel along the NCC’s criteria. Speculation about a new home for the Ottawa Senators didn’t have time to get going in earnest before the Sens confirmed that they were indeed submitting a proposal. Sens Army worked itself into a lather at the prospect and during All Star weekend Senators president Cyril Leeder gave a lengthy interview with the Ottawa Sun on why he thought the Sens proposal (one of five submitted before the January 7th deadline) had merit. And over the course of the following week, the NCC teased that all but one of the proposals had plans for a new main branch for the Ottawa Public Library, capitalizing on the current movement to replace the aging one downtown (the NCC has been tightlipped on what the other four proposals entail and who they were submitted by). But there are five reasons why Sens Army, to paraphrase our British friends, should keep calm and carry on.
THE NCC: Ah yes, the National Capital Commission, the biggest stick in the mud since Noah’s Ark got stuck on Mount Ararat. The NCC, also known as Fun’s Greatest Haters, is donating the land in question, and as such reserves final approval on all proposals being submitted. And while the NCC hasn’t thrown cold water on the idea of a new hockey on Lebreton Flats (yet), you can only imagine what the bore-mongers who call the shots on that board of pompous buffoons is really thinking. The NCC seems to have moved beyond its mandate of protecting public lands to being the biggest killjoys this side of the 49th parallel. If someone wants to plant a tree within spitting distance of Parliament Hill or the Ottawa River, the NCC has something to say about it. They’ll rain on a parade, any parade, at a moment’s notice. Last November they threw another political hurdle in the way of Ottawa’s LRT project, most notably it’s western expansion. You know, the LRT project that’s already well underway and has dominated Ottawa’s municipal politics for the last decade or so. Yeah, that LRT, which they just now got around to interfering with, at a potential cost of hundred of millions of dollars. No matter what you think of him or his politics, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson is one of the most civil politicians your going to find, and he’s diplomatically selective in the use of his vocabulary. But recently you can almost hear the F-bombs simmering beneath the surface of his strained restraint when he talks about the NCC. If the NCC thinks anyone will genuinely have a good time at a new arena, they’ll quash it right then and there.
THE DOLLARS: So one important question hasn’t really been asked about a possible new arena, let alone answered: who’s going to pay for it? Eugene Melnyk has essentially been crying poor for the past few years (the Sens lowball contract offer convinced long time Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson to leave the team in 2013 and it’s the reason the team’s payroll currently sits 29th in the NHL) and Watson has already thrown cold water on the idea the city will cover any of the costs (only a handful of professional sports stadiums have recently been built in North America without significant or complete tax dollar financing). So, who’s going to open up their purse? The province? Not when it’s facing a 16 billion dollar deficit and is in debt a few miles north of its eyeballs. The feds? Could you imagine how much ammunition a Conservative government committing hundreds of millions of dollars to a hockey stadium would provide Stephen Harper’s opponents with in an election year? A private developer? OK, then how does said developer and the team split the revenue (it’s a universal rule in the NHL that both the team and the arena they call home have to be owned by the same party in order to be profitable). Well, you may ask, why doesn’t Eugene Melnyk sell the current Canadian Tire Centre and use that money to cover the tab of building a new arena? To which I’d reply, that while that may be all well and good, who do you think is on the short list to buy an 18,000 plus seat hockey arena with no tenant? And if you DO manage to find a buyer, do you honestly think they cough up the couple hundred million such a project will demand? On a side note, Melnyk has said that the not-quite-20 year-old CTC wasn’t built to last 30 or 40 years, implying its nearing the end of its life expectancy. Funny, we never heard that argument a little over a year ago when he was campaigning to add a casino to it.
THE TRAFFIC: Do me a favour, picture the traffic in crowded downtown Ottawa during rush hour on a Wednesday afternoon. Now picture the traffic headed west on the Queensway in the hours leading up to a Senators home game at the CTC. Now take the Queensway traffic and shove each and every car into the downtown traffic you first pictured. Did you throw up a little? The traffic congestion that would result downtown during home games would be nothing short of catastrophic and it would have a ripple effect throughout much of the city. But what about public transit, you may ask. What about it? Have you seen how many buses, packed to the gills each and every one, travel to the CTC during hockey games? Over forty per game, and the traffic is still stupid. But it works at the TD place, you may counter. Perhaps, but there’s already been an avalanche of complaints about funneling visitors to Lansdowne for Red-Blacks games through public transit and it’s only been one season. And the CFL isn’t the NHL, which will outdraw Canada’s football league nine times out of ten, even in the Nation’s Capital (Bruce Firestone, who was the driving force behind the Sens return to the NHL, once wrote that if they depended on buses to fill their new building, wherever it was put, they’d have exactly one sellout-the home opener-and then the fans would revolt). But, you’ll add with no shortage of confidence, people will be able to walk to and from games downtown. Sure, that works in October and March, but January and February aren’t exactly pedestrian friendly months weather wise and judging by OC Transpo’s slowly declining ridership, Ottawa natives have proven that if they can, they’ll drive as opposed to other modes of travel, regardless of cost or convenience. And plummeting gas prices will only add to that preference. But in one final, smug argument, you’ll remind me that by then the LRT should be up and running and can ferry Sens Army to support the hometown boys. And I will politely refer you to point number one of this column. Right now no one knows how the NCC’s recent interference in the city’s LRT western expansion could affect the whole plan. Anything else?
THE PUBLIC: And speaking of Lansdowne, do you remember a little group called Friends of Lansdowne? The group who fought the city tooth and nail and tooth again over its plans for a rejuvenated and renovated Lansdowne Park, one that would welcome (yet) another CFL franchise? Do you remember the tantrums and the caterwauling, the fact that the city spent over a million dollars fighting the group in court and that it put a hold on the entire operation for years, jeopardizing a number of interested tenants (including the CFL)? Don’t think for a second that a similar fight won’t happen if the land in question is used for a new NHL arena downtown. The first day this news broke, some community leaders were quoted saying they liked the idea of a new arena downtown, but didn’t think it was the best use for public land. And the traffic problem I previously described will be the biggest bullet opponent’s arsenal.
THE WEST: You may seem to remember last October, the weekend following Thanksgiving, that there was a pretty big opening in the west end. What was that again? Oh, right, the Tanger Outlet Mall that opened right next door to the Canadian Tire Centre (and it’s opening attracted more then enough traffic to complicate things in the entire west end, all the way out in Kanata, just saying). Now you may be curious why I would bring up Tanger. I mean, the two buildings seem totally unrelated, even if they are neighbours. Except, rumour has it that Tanger was built there in an effort to help develop the west end. You see, way back in the day, the original brain trust behind brining the NHL back to Ottawa wanted to put their arena on Lebreton Flats, pretty much on the land that’s being debated today, but they were denied by, wait for it, the NCC. So when ground was broken on the current location, the underlying idea was that the land around the then Palladium would gradually be developed with strip malls and suburbs and office buildings (until then Ottawa boasted the biggest sports and entertainment venue in the middle of, you know, nowhere). But while the progress has been slower then hoped on that front, the lands around the now CTC have slowly been looking more and more like an urban centre and less like a farmer’s field (I had a job interview at the CTC shortly after it opened, and upon completion of my interview I went and played with the neighbouring farm’s cows). That, according to rumour, was the biggest motivator behind putting Tanger right next door to the arena. Both Mayor Watson and a handful of Kanata business leaders have wondered aloud what would happen if the Sens were to leave Kanata, how it would affect west end businesses as well as long term plans to develop the west end further.
Is a new arena downtown impossible? No, but highly improbable, and not just for the five reasons I discussed (there are probably a dozen more I don’t know about). If it happens, I’ll toast it right alongside you Sens Army, just don’t count your chickens before the eggs are even laid.