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Ottawa taking stand on new arena cost

Proposal part of the revitalization of LeBreton Flats

Ongoing negotiations could spur the move of the Ottawa Senators from the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata to downtown. The city will not be a direct partner and has limited &quotmunicipal tools" to finace the build it is making clear to the Senators

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Ongoing negotiations could spur the move of the Ottawa Senators from the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata to downtown. The city will not be a direct partner and has limited "municipal tools" to finace the build it is making clear to the Senators

The city is taking a strong stance to ensure public coffers are protected in the process of bringing the Ottawa Senators downtown.

In a memo circulated to members of city council last week, staff outlined principles that would guide city's participation into the ongoing process of redeveloping LeBreton Flats, a large undeveloped site just west of Parliament Hill. Part of that revitalization - which is overseen by the RendezVous LeBreton Group - would include the building of a new arena that would serve as a new home for the Senators.

While the city encourages the revitalization, the staff report notes there are limited "municipal financial tools" and the city will not be a direct partner in the project.

That's a wise move on the city's part, said sports marketing expert Dan Mason, professor of physical education at University of Alberta.

"You don't see public money going into facilities like these," he said, noting in many circumstances the land availability reduces city's leverage. In addition, part of the reticence for cities to pour money into such projects is the artificial scarcity of sports teams.

"Because sports leagues can restrict the number of available franchises, teams can threaten to relocate, and that threat leads to public subsidy," he said.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, many businesses moved from downtown to suburban areas in the hopes of increasing economic activities outside the usually densely-populated city centres.

But the desire for shorter commute, plus the availability of less expensive lands in downtown areas is helping reverse the trend, Mason said.

A number of sports teams in the United States have led the charge, including most recently in Sacramento, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

The existing infrastructure can easily accommodate this project without much of an inconvenience, he added.

"There's usually concerns about things like parking, transportation issues, but that grid is there already in Ottawa," said Mason, adding arena events tend to happen outside of the general commute times.

"I'd think there's a lot of people who live and work in downtown Ottawa who don't necessarily want to go all the way out to the suburbs to watch an event."

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