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April 28, 2009

Bruce Firestone: Why Scotiabank Place is where it is

Here's a fascinating article from Bruce Firestone on why Scotiabank Place is in Kanata - and not at Lebreton Flats, or Lansdowne Park, or somewhere else downtown. Firestone was the original founder of the Senators. Here's a short excerpt:
First, here are a few observations that came primarily from Gino Rossetti, the Detroit-based architect who was the architect-of-record for the Palladium and who pioneered the concept of consecutive rings of suites with his successful first effort at stadium and arena design—the Palace of Auburn Hills where the Detroit Pistons play. A city needs an arena site that has:

1. A large horizontal surface for parking;
2. A site that is not less than 85 acres and preferably 100;
3. Access to a major transportation corridor;
4. Access to public transit;
5. A site that would allow the structure to be half in the ground and half above the surface to distribute guests more efficiently and to make the building more human scale.

Let’s first look at some of the alternative sites. Lebreton Flats is owned by the NCC and the NCC informed us that they had a (very) long term plan for the site that did not include an arena, even if was going to be a ‘very nice arena’, it was still just a rink to them. The NCC felt that national priorities such as a new museum (which turned out to be the War Museum) or a new SCC (Supreme Court of Canada) building would take precedence. They gave us two opinions—a private view which just said “No.” And a public version: “We’ll study it.” In bureaucrat’ese, that is the same as a “No.”

We also looked at the Lac Leamy site where the Casino du Lac Leamy is now. It’s a beautiful site, next to water, close to a major highway and just five minutes from the Parliamentary precinct. Better yet, it was for sale at that time. After all, you can’t build on a site that doesn’t belong to you (i.e., in the case of NCC ownership of Lebreton Flats).

But there were already two NHL teams in the Province of Québec (unfortunately, the Nordiques have long since moved from Québec City to Denver) and the majority of our potential fan base did not want to see a third team headquartered there while Ontario only had one team.

What about locating the team at Lansdowne Park? There were two significant issues with that choice. Firstly, there are more lawyers living in the Glebe than practically anywhere else in Ottawa. How would they and the Glebe community react to having another two million visitors descend on their neighborhood? I can tell you from hard experience—not well. The planning for a new arena might have taken years to get approved, if ever.

Secondly, the NCC would never allow OC Transpo to run buses on Queen Elizabeth Drive. Hence, the only way to get people in and out by public transit would be Bank Street. The MAXIMUM number of people that OC can run up and down Bank Street would be about 2,500 pph (people per hour). For an arena with a 20,000 capacity, it would take four hours to exit everyone from the building using buses and another three hours or so to get them there in the first place, if you were to rely on public transit for, say, 50% of our attendance at a game or an event. (Arrivals tend to be more spread out than departures since, if you lose to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference Final as the Sens did, EVERYONE wants to go home at exactly the same moment. Hence, departures for OC buses on Bank Street would have been problematic since the mix with cars would effectively lock down the street.)

Now that tells you something about why the ACC and the Bell Centre are downtown arenas. We could have built the Palladium on a downtown site if Ottawa had a big time people mover like the Métro in Montréal or the subway in TO. Those two systems can move between 20,000 and 30,000 pph—a huge increase from what OC can do.

When we used to go to Montréal to see Expos games, we used to drive to downtown, have dinner and then take the Métro to the Big ‘O’; we would never think of taking our car.

But I can tell you that if we relied on buses, we would have had one sellout—opening night and after that, there would have been a fan revolt.

Even in 1987-1989, we thought the event horizon to get a rapid transit system here in Ottawa was a generation away and given the way our City is currently proceeding (or not proceeding), I am not holding my breath to see a high capacity light rail system appear in Ottawa any time soon.

In fact, people coming from Orleans by car would have taken more time to get to Lansdowne Park than to get to SBP—sure, they can get to the Queensway and Bank Street in 20 minutes but threading their way off the Queensway and hunting and pecking their way to a parking spot, who knows where, could easily take more time and gas than going to the Kanata site.

Read the entire post...

Related: Ottawa Hockey Guide

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