If the businessmen at the helm of the RendezVous LeBreton Group can’t resolve their legal dispute and come through on their stalled plans to redevelop LeBreton Flats, the National Capital Commission has a “viable” back-up proposal for the long-awaited city-building project “ready to go,” the Crown corporation’s outgoing CEO says.
“Whether RendezVous LeBreton continues or not, I know that I’m completing my term having prepared — along with the chair, my fellow board members and with many of our staff — a viable alternative approach,” Mark Kristmanson said in his final verbal report to the NCC’s board of directors on Thursday morning.
“That approach is ready to go and it can be deployed quickly and efficiently, if necessary, to maintain our primary aim which is to bring a living community back to LeBreton Flats.”
Kristmanson is leaving his post at the helm of the NCC next week, when the five-year term to which he was appointed wraps up. Taking Kristmanson’s place on Feb. 4 is Ottawa city councillor Tobi Nussbaum.
The NCC is responsible for the management of federal lands and buildings in the National Capital Region. Along with a number of other major files, Nussbaum will be responsible for navigating a path forward for LeBreton Flats, 52-acres of long-vacant, public property located just west of Ottawa’s downtown core.
Plans for the multi-billion-dollar redevelopment of LeBreton Flats have been on hold since November, when Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk sued his RendezVous LeBreton partner, John Ruddy of Trinity Development Inc., for $700 million, over what Melnyk described as a “failed joint venture.”
Ruddy responded with a $1-billion counter-suit against Melnyk’s company, Capital Sports Management Inc. Documents filed in court by Melnyk and Ruddy revealed that things had not been harmonious between the two sides for some time.
The main RendezVous LeBreton partners are now in confidential mediation, in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to salvage their relationship.
The NCC tapped the consortium back in 2016 as the preferred proponent to redevelop LeBreton Flats, with its proposal to build a mixed-use community anchored by a new downtown NHL hockey arena for the Ottawa Senators.
As he took questions from reporters Thursday, Kristmanson said he still believes the consortium’s vision for LeBreton Flats is “strong” — highlighting the proposed affordable housing, sustainable design and public spaces — and emphasized massive city projects require patience.
Despite the less-than-rosy state of affairs between the consortium’s leaders, Kristmanson told reporters that he remains proud of the public consultation process the NCC undertook in advance of choosing the winning bidder.
“The 8,000 responses we received were processed into a report that went directly to the selection committee and the subject matter experts. It’s all been informed into the building of the project,” Kristmanson said, adding that the municipal zoning application for LeBreton Flats, once circulated, will trigger additional public consultation.
“What we have right now is a business partnership that is not functioning, and we’ll see if they can make it function.”
RendezVous LeBreton partners in mediation; NCC board ‘not infinitely patient’, Kristmanson says
Weeks after the NCC gave notice mid-December that it would terminate its agreement with RendezVous LeBreton, the consortium’s project manager Graham Bird announced that he, Ruddy and Melnyk had agreed to enter mediation talks, with assistance from well-respected arbitrator and former Ontario chief justice Warren Winkler.
Winkler then asked the NCC to grant the group more time and extend the expiration of the project agreement from Jan. 19 to Feb. 28, 2019 — a request the Crown corporation agreed to, delaying its original plan to move forward with “next steps” at Thursday’s board meeting.
Asked by Global News what convinced the NCC’s board that Melnyk, Ruddy and Bird deserved more time to resolve their differences, Kristmanson said Winkler’s stature was “certainly” a factor.
“I think you don’t take that lightly, a former chief justice of Ontario … I think it shows a degree of seriousness,” Kristmanson told reporters. “I think the fact that the three parties are at the table, I think the board took that under consideration, that this deserved to be given a chance.”
Still, the board is “ready to move on” and won’t wait forever, Kristmanson warned.
“I would caution everybody that the board is not infinitely patient on this,” he said.
Marc Seaman, chair of the NCC board, echoed Kristmanson’s explanation, noting there’s been “a lot of investment and significant progress over the last couple of years” with respect to the LeBreton Flats project.
“I think, when we talk about patience, we’d rather try too hard than not hard enough,” Seaman said.