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Senators win right to land for downtown arena

Hope is new building would be ready for 2021-22 season

by Chris Stevenson / Correspondent

OTTAWA -- Eugene Melnyk has owned the Ottawa Senators for 13 years and had what he called his best day on Thursday.

"No. 1, by far," he said.

Tweet from @Senators: IT'S OFFICIAL! The NCC has chosen to negotiate with the #Sens-backed bid for LeBreton Flats!

Melnyk's RendezVous LeBreton group won the right to negotiate with the National Capital Commission to develop the 53-acre LeBreton Flats site on the western edge of downtown Ottawa, a project that will include a new home for the Senators.

Melnyk's proposal was chosen over another from Devcore Canderel DLS Group which included Andre Desmarais of Power Corp., and Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil. The two bids were evaluated by a five-person committee.

Melnyk said the move downtown to a site that will be serviced by two stations on the planned Light Rapid Transit rail line will make the Senators accessible to more fans and generate more revenue, which will guarantee the team's future in Ottawa. 

"We're one of the very few [franchises] that don't have a downtown arena in the whole NHL," Melnyk said. "It's going to start attracting people. Now you've solidified yourself for a long, long time. Now more than ever I believe we'll bring that Stanley Cup here sooner than you think. I just really believe that.

"I think it's a huge deal, certainly the largest thing I've ever been involved in. It's a project I'm so glad we won. I know we're going to deliver everything we said we'd do. It's going to change the landscape of the city for sure, and it's going to be a huge win all around."

Melnyk said the new arena could be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season.

"It really was a spectacular project," he said. "It was well thought through, not that theirs wasn't. They had a great bid, too, and that's what had me worried. You'll be very proud of this day in five years from now and seeing the whole site getting developed beautifully and you'll see it pretty quick. I can't wait to build that stadium, very quick."

In its decision, the NCC, a federal crown corporation which oversees federal lands in Canada's capital, said the arena and surrounding development "has the potential to bring civic life back to this historic capital district."

"The hockey team is an engine at the middle of it, but it's not the only element," said Dr. Mark Kristmanson, chief executive officer of the NCC.

The NCC was impressed with the RendezVous LeBreton proposal to develop the site into five distinct districts with a mixed use of residential and retail properties with the new arena as the centerpiece.

The Melnyk group will meet with the NCC on Friday to begin negotiations on a deal. If an agreement is reached, it will be submitted to the federal government for approval. After that, the City of Ottawa will have to approve official plan and zone amendments, scheduled for 2017-19.

If negotiations with the Melnyk group are not successful, the NCC left the door open to negotiate with the Devcore Canderel DLS Group.

"I look at it as transforming from Ottawa the old to Ottawa the bold," Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said. "You've got a site that for 50 years has been vacant. This is a very bold and dynamic site that I believe is going to revitalize that important part of the city.

"The arena moving downtown makes a lot of sense. If you look around North America today you see arenas that are in the downtown core, connected directly to public transit. People can walk, they can take transit. They can have an experience, not just going to the game, but go out for dinner and go shopping.

"This is a long-term project. It's the last major tract of downtown land. We want to make sure we get it right."

Melnyk said he will unveil the long-term plans for Canadian Tire Centre, the Senators' current home, within the next month or so.

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