LeBetter Flats (x) programming the site

Guest story from Richard Eade; excerpted from a longer on-line conversation. Just pretend you are coming onto a conversation that has been going on for bit, so you have to figure out just what is being discussed:

I’ll point out that the DCDLS [Devcore] proposal [which puts their arena right up against Bayview Station) has pathways that go directly across the path of a north extension of the Trillium Line going towards the Prince of Wales Bridge. That is how they ‘connect’ to the O-Train. This is not a factor for the Senator’s plan since their arena is between LRT stations and not ‘connected’ to one.

Personally, I do have issues with connecting the arena to a single station. I prefer the Senators idea of having people walk to either of two stations. This will a) reduce the sudden ‘crush’ of people arriving at one station; b) force people to walk past other amenities (bars, etc.) on their way to/from the LRT stations (although the amenities mostly seem to be in the direction of Pimisi), and c) frees up the space immediately around the stations for high-density uses (office and residential towers) that generate more constant (virtually every day instead of 100 nights/y) LRT use.

Originally, the plan for Kanata was to build a 20,500 seat Palladium, but that was scaled back by the OMB to 18,500. Since then, the City has allowed the arena to increase its seating to 19,153. The Canadian Tire Centre’s seating was 19,153 until the 2015 upgrade when the overall seating was reduced to 18,694 when several rows of individual seats were removed to make way for much more expensive Victory Suite seats; the idea being that there is more profit from selling fewer seats at a much higher price. So, why is the Senator’s plan to build an 18,000 seat stadium (18,500 seats for DCDLS) on LeBreton? I expect that we will see a sizable bump up in the price of tickets for all seats; because the Senators will not take a revenue drop. Moving the arena downtown will make it more expensive for people to attend.

Overall, I find the Senator’s bid to be a greedy one. They are building their new arena, and a central Sens-plex (their other two Sens-plex developments make money by selling ice-time), and a whole whack of residential and office towers that they are going to make money on. Where is the public good? Even their idea for a public library is to put it on someone else’s property and it is not going to be financed by them.

I also don’t think that the Sen’s neighbourhood will be a ‘buzzing’, vibrant area any more than the residential neighbourhood around the Walter Baker Recreational Complex or the area around the Centrum Mall in Kanata is. The Senators have lots of unsubstantiated words about programming the area, but that is not something that is going to be constant and perpetual. They talk about all the people who will be strolling the streets – why are they strolling? There really isn’t anything more to draw them out on the street than there is along Sparks Street.

The Senator’s bid just fills the area (and the Senator’s pockets), but I don’t see how that makes it special. Take away the arena and what is there that makes this an area that you would want to visit? It doesn’t look as if the Senators looked any further than themselves for inspiration. Even the main thing connected with the arena that is supposed to attract people, the ‘forest path’ around the top (the much larger central portion will not be green as it is often depicted, it is just a gravel roof), is only accessible from within the arena by elevator. I predict that it will be used as often as the ‘public’ space that the City insisted be built into 150 Elgin. Does anyone go into that building to take the special elevator up to the ‘public’ balcony? Not very many.

On the other hand, the DCDLS [Devcore]  bid has all manner of attractions. If they were all built, there is no doubt that there would be a lot of day-time traffic through the area. I do appreciate that that group actually went out and asked for commitments from others to occupy dedicated facilities that the group would build for them. Although it might sound like small potatoes, they asked Skyventure of Laval to set up an indoor ‘skydivng’ company there. (Actually, I have driven to Laval specifically for this attraction, and many of my family want to go back. If this facility was built on the Flats, I have no doubt that it would be as popular as the one in Laval, or any of the others around the U.S..) They asked Farm Boy if they would set up a store, and the french school board for a school, and the YMCA, and Ripley’s, etc. Yup, some of the ideas might fall through, but they literally went out to find things that might make the area a draw for a wide variety of people. They were not planning a one-horse town. Having all, or even some (since taking one away wouldn’t kill the area), of these features in such a concentrated area would definitely create an area that is lively, and that energy would feed on itself. It would be a place that buskers would want to go (and that the City should encourage), that Poutine and other Fests would want to be. This would be an area that would generate a lot of its own ‘programming, instead of waiting for the Senators to do something.

Alas, the DCDLS bid seems to fall behind the Senator’s bid in creating a residential/office/hotel neighbourhood that is meant for pedestrians. There are too few crossings of the aqueduct and LRT line and their plan to ‘animate’ one side of Albert seems like nothing more than wishful dreaming. (Especially since the ‘drop-off’ road for the residential towers is probably where the front of the building will be – putting the back-side along Albert.)

Saying that the Senator’s plan is more pedestrian oriented is more damning than it sounds because, of course, the Senator’s plan has way too many roads within the main area (for example the Canada Drive over the LRT is a main road), but roads are what the Sens use to bolster their ‘public space’ number. (The DCDLS bid has no real roads in the interior of their public area, north of the aqueduct, but there are underground parking facilities accessed from the periphery.) The big benefit of the Sen’s layout is the porosity and ease of movement for pedestrians – even if they are sharing those routes with cars. The DCDLS idea of separating the private residential component from the public use portion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but that segregation shouldn’t be so limiting.

All-in-all, I would prefer that neither of the bids be accepted as they are. If the NCC could cherry-pick, then a hybrid of the two plans could be a good starting point to begin polishing.

Richard Eade