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Feds reducing office space 'opens the door' to the idea of a NHL rink in downtown Ottawa, mayor says

A rendering of what a new Ottawa Senators arena on LeBreton Flats could look like. (Capital Sports Development Inc.) A rendering of what a new Ottawa Senators arena on LeBreton Flats could look like. (Capital Sports Development Inc.)
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The federal government's move to reduce its office space by 50 per cent over the next 10 years could open up discussions on a potential site for a new Ottawa Senators arena in downtown Ottawa, according to Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

Public Service and Procurement Canada has over 6 million sq. m. of office space across Canada, with a majority of the space in the national capital region, and the government says approximately 50 per cent of the office space is underused or vacant. In Tuesday's federal budget, the government committed $1.1 billion over 10 years to reduce the size of its office portfolio, including accelerating the end of leases.

"Obviously, this represents a big change for our city and we've known this is coming, but the idea that the federal government is going to move out of 50 per cent of its buildings in the downtown core is probably the biggest change to downtown Ottawa we will ever experience and have ever experienced," Sutcliffe said on TSN Mornings on TSN 1200 with John Rodenburg and Steve Lloyd.

"It's enormous! The idea of converting some of those buildings to housing is very appealing; it's not easy, it's not simple but we do need to have more people living downtown if we're not going to have as many people working downtown."

Sutcliffe hopes the federal move to reduce its real estate portfolio "opens the door to a conversation about other opportunities in the downtown core.

"Maybe we can have a new park downtown, maybe we can have other attractions downtown and, maybe, we can have a conversation about a downtown arena," Sutcliffe said Wednesday.

"If the Senators are interested in exploring a downtown option, I think it would be great for the downtown core."

The Senators and the National Capital Commission continue negotiations on a possible arena at LeBreton Flats. The NCC's board of directors is scheduled to receive an in-camera update on LeBreton Flats during its meeting on Thursday.

Sutcliffe has said repeatedly LeBreton Flats is not the "only scenario" for a new arena for the Senators, suggesting several other locations in the downtown area.

There have been concerns about the future of downtown Ottawa coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the federal government implementing a hybrid work format requiring employees to be in the office two or three days a week and transit ridership slow to return.  Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government to require workers to return to the office.

The mayor says the federal government's move shows Ottawa and its partners need to come up with a plan for the downtown core to help revitalize it.

"What was announced yesterday just underscores how we need to do something downtown, and I think our best opportunity to do something powerful downtown would be to have a major attraction in the downtown core and the arena could be it," Sutcliffe said.

"It's not a sure thing, it's not an easy thing but I think it's worth taking a shot at it."

Sutcliffe says officials could come up with a list of "20 or 30 ideas" to revitalize downtown.

"I don't think there's any one that would match the idea of having a major event centre in the downtown core," the mayor said.

"Seventeen or 18-thousand-seat arena where there would be concerts and hockey games and other events, and where it could be connected maybe to hotels and other facilities that are hosting conferences and international gatherings. That is our best opportunity. It may not work out in the long run; these things are super complicated, they involve a lot of different elements. I think it's worth at least taking a look at it because it is our best chance to do something special downtown at a time when we really need it."

Several office buildings in downtown Ottawa have been slated for conversion into residential units, including 200 Elgin Street, 360 Laurier Avenue and 130 Slater Street.

The mayor insists the debate on the future use of downtown buildings doesn’t have to be choosing between housing or an arena.

"I think it's very possible to do both. We're talking about a huge amount of real estate, we're talking about 20 or 30 different sites in the downtown core potentially. Some of those may be suitable for housing and some may not, and some of them may be suitable for an attraction and some may not," Sutcliffe said.

"There is a lot of options, we have to take a look at which buildings are in play and what the best opportunity is for each of those.

"We should have a plan for the future of downtown Ottawa; look at this holistically, look at the entire map and make the right kinds of decisions. Let's turn this historic threat into an opportunity."

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