The Ottawa Senators’ horrible, no good, very bad week just took a turn for the worse.
Two days after the completion of a trade deadline fire sale that saw their three top scorers traded away for draft picks and prospects, the last-place Senators were notified Wednesday the mediation effort to salvage the RendezVous LeBreton proposal to build a new downtown arena west of Parliament Hill has failed. And a slow, agonizing death it was.
In a three-sentence missive, the National Capital Commission (NCC) announced it had been advised by the mediator, Judge Warren Winkler, that "the parties have been unable to reach a settlement."
The board of directors for the NCC will hold a teleconference on Thursday to review the situation. A meeting on March 7 will be held to "finalize the elements of a new process for the future redevelopment of LeBreton Flats."
And no, the NCC cannot simply hand the reins over to the Devcore Canderel DLS group, a partnership of Quebec billionaires who finished second in the bidding to develop LeBreton. The process will get a fresh start.
Can we find any silver lining out of this latest body blow to the Senators?
For one, just because the RendezVous proposal is dead in the Ottawa River, it doesn’t mean an equally comprehensive development can’t take place on LeBreton Flats, one that includes a sparkling new, 18,000-seat NHL arena.
The city of Ottawa’s light-rail development is going to have a major transit hub in this area, and needs a major focal point such as an NHL arena, as badly as the Senators need to be downtown and out of their 23-year-old facility in Kanata.
As Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who sits on the NCC board, said after the announcement: "I don’t think a deal is dead – I think that deal is obviously dead."
Watson vowed the new proposal, which will require more public consultation, can nevertheless "get shovels in the ground this term of council."
While an arena doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the new proposal, it makes sense for it to be.
"I’ve always said the arena was a pivotal part of that particular proposal because there’s no walk-up traffic at the Canadian Tire Centre," Watson said. "You need that walk-up traffic."
One source said the NCC is expected to at least reserve a site to hold a future new arena, although it won’t likely get built until Melnyk agrees to sell the team to a group willing to pay for the building and operate the franchise.
Considering Melnyk has been performing gravity-defying, financial gymnastics for the past few years, the consensus feeling is he can’t hang on to the franchise forever. The backlash from the business community and season ticket holders over the trades of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel this past week has been immediate and strong. If Melnyk’s front-office forces can manage a successful season-ticket renewal campaign after the news of this week, it would defy the current mood in Ottawa where #MelnykOut is the hashtag of choice.
Yet, he won’t quickly relent.
In a statement, Melnyk blamed his partners for the LeBreton failure and said the Senators are "determined and committed to explore alternative approaches in central locations that could accommodate a world-class hub. We are here for the long term and want a world class venue where Ottawans will live, work and play and enjoy the best the city has to offer."
Stone might regret leaving town when he reads this. You know, because there are so many other suitable central locations for a major arena. Or not.
The mayor advised fans not to give up on the future of the team, but wasn’t above throwing shade on Melnyk.
"There has been a lot of frustration dealing with Mr. Melnyk on a number of fronts," Watson said. "I don’t think he’s made this process easy. His musings about not going downtown, going downtown, hurt his credibility and hurt his team’s credibility."
At the outset, getting this done looked as easy as a layup for Lebron James.
On April 29, 2016, Melnyk and Trinity Developments, run by John Ruddy, were awarded the right to develop 49 acres of prime real estate close to the heart of the nation’s capital.
In January 2018, a preferred proponent term sheet was signed.
All the RendezVous partners had to do was meet their end of financial commitments, and prepare to make a killing on this massive, multi-billion dollar development. Oh, and try to avoid suing one another.
They couldn’t do it. In late November, Melnyk announced he and his Capital Sports Management Inc. (CSMI) were suing Trinity and project manager Graham Bird Associates for $700 million. Melnyk claimed Trinity had a conflict of interest regarding a development of a nearby property at 900 Albert St.
Trinity and Bird filed a counter-suit for $1 billion claiming Melnyk could not hold up his end of the financial arrangement.
"Our court filings today made clear that Mr. Melnyk and CSMI have been demanding a free arena courtesy of local taxpayers and Trinity," Trinity said in a statement.
None of the claims have been tested in court, but it soon become clear the Melnyk/Trinity partnership was beyond salvation. On Dec. 19, the NCC announced it was terminating the RendezVous bid.
Mediation was requested by the failing partnership, but with a strict deadline of Feb. 28. The NCC didn’t need to wait that long – pulling the plug a day early and announcing a do-over for LeBreton.
The NCC was hardly blindsided by the failure of mediation, at best a last-ditch effort to revive RendezVous. Outgoing NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson said last month that the NCC has a backup plan and can make use of the two years of investigation into developing LeBreton.
That RendezVous vision, though, the slam dunk of yesterday, just hit the rim and bounced away.
Melnyk can still be a hero in this scenario – by selling the franchise to someone who can revive the dream of a LeBreton arena housing the Ottawa Senators.