Stakeholder dispute puts Senators arena in danger

Canada’s National Capital Commission (NCC) has warned that it is prepared to reassess the use of land earmarked for a new arena for NHL ice hockey team the Ottawa Senators amid an ongoing dispute between the project’s two key stakeholders.

An 18,000-seat downtown arena has been planned as the centrepiece of a major redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, an area of Ottawa that has been vacant since the 1960s. In April 2016, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and his RendezVous LeBreton group won the right to build the new arena as part of a C$4bn (£2.36bn/€2.66bn/$3.02bn) development in association with Trinity Developments, headed by John Ruddy.

However, the project has stalled since then and the NCC, owners of the land, yesterday (Thursday) voted unanimously in favour of potentially starting a new process to redevelop LeBreton Flats. With Melnyk and Ruddy unable to come to a corporate governance structure for their venture, the NCC will ultimately make a decision on the matter in January.

Both Melnyk and Ruddy yesterday issued statements reaffirming their commitment to the project, but the Ottawa Citizen newspaper said it is the Senators owner who is proving the roadblock in the venture. Citing three sources with knowledge of the talks, the Citizen said Melnyk has been trying to avoid paying for the arena, with Ruddy having already signed the corporate governance agreement.

Commenting on these allegations, Senators chief operating officer Nicolas Ruszkowski said: “Throughout this process, we have respected the terms and conditions set out in our agreement with our partner. We will continue to do so and therefore, we will not be commenting on misleading and unattributed speculation that does not move the process forward in a constructive manner.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, a non-voting member of the NCC board, admitted that Thursday’s news is a “setback and a disappointment.” “They have to get their act together, plain and simple,” Watson said of RendezVous. “Otherwise, I think we’re going to have to move on in January.”

The Mayor added: “We need to see solid evidence that they have their act together, that it’s an amicable relationship, because we cannot have a dysfunctional partnership to construct and build this site over the next 10-20 years. It has to be workable.”

The Senators have played in the 18,600-seat Canadian Tire Centre since 1996, but its location in the suburb of Kanata has made it unpopular with fans. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated last year that a new downtown arena was “vitally important” to the long-term future, stability and competitiveness of the Senators.

Image: Jfvoll