You’ll remember that Mayor Jim Watson got Ottawa City Council to give himself and city manager Steve Kanellakos sole authority to negotiate a deal on LeBreton Flats.
Then whatever they negotiate can be brought back to the Stepford Council for automatic approval.
But wait a second … why are there negotiations? Isn’t that the role of the National Capital Commission as it deals with its own land? Isn’t the job of the NCC to simply put a proposal in front of planning committee and subsequently council? When did the city move from approvals to negotiator? When did the city become deal-maker or deal-breaker rather than legislator? Didn’t the NCC finish with that on federal public property?
Here’s why Watson wants to negotiate solely and get involved in the details of the deal.
The city has a profound conflict of interest. That’s because it is “partnered” (the city’s own words) with developers at Lansdowne. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group is the chief entertainment competition for Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators. To bring the Senators and the entertainment component of the current Canadian Tire Centre downtown further promotes competition with the city’s partnership at Lansdowne.
Furthermore, perhaps some of the development community (a part of Ottawa Watson firmly supports) wants a piece of the action at LeBreton. Watson is in a position now to give that to them.
So here are two reasons for Watson to want to negotiate. First, his development friends get a chance to make money off LeBreton. Second, Watson can stop the arena part of the project to protect the municipality’s interest at Lansdowne. That’s a lot of power and few like power more than Jim Watson.
Then Watson has personal reasons for wanting a big say in what occurs at LeBreton.
First, the mayor strongly dislikes the NCC. Watson has made a career of fighting the federal custodian of public lands. As well His Worship took a terrible loss when the Crown corporation forced the city to tunnel down the NCC’s Macdonald Parkway. Second, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk dislikes the mayor over his botched handling of a casino the club wanted a piece of. For Watson’s part, the dislike is mutual.
The stakes are very high at LeBreton.
The community can finally rid itself of land that has sat fallow within sight of the Parliament Buildings for decades. It can lose an eyesore and under-developed land.
As well, the new arena is critical to the survival of the National Hockey League club. Sagging attendance this year at the CTC shows exactly how fragile the small market in the national capital region is for major league hockey. The arena in Kanata over time will spell the end of the Senators. Connections to the Quebec and east-end market are very poor. That eliminates a great part of the NCR small market for the struggling club.
So what is at stake is the biggest undeveloped piece of land near downtown that will have a huge effect on the future of this community. So too is the future in jeopardy of the only real major league sports team in town … one of the great promoters of Ottawa inside and outside the city.
Watson has sole authority over this negotiation, approval and development with his control of a rubber-stamp council. Unfortunately, the city has a real interest in seeing the LeBreton project fail added to Watson’s dislike of the NCC and Melnyk.
The LeBreton project is now in Watson’s hands. He has real reasons to see LeBreton flop.
And if it does, the responsibility for that failure will be Watson’s alone.
That comes with sole authority.
Video above: The plans for LeBreton.
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