Levisoa IlumiNation !

So is the Sens-trinity et all plan for LeBreton Flats — called IllumiNation — really dead this time?

Naah. There’s lots of opportunity to raise it from the mat one more time.

There’s a high profile spat going on between the partners. Over money, of course.

If I was Melnyk I’d be pissed at one of my financial partners going into direct competition right beside the “joint” project proposal, and with a project 30% the size of the partnership proposal.

And if I was John Ruddy at Trinity, I’d be wary of putting all my eggs in one basket, and would diversify by trying to buy up all the land around the nascent and other future LRT stations, and developing them as the city directs (higher, higher, higher!). Which he is doing.

But law suits are just another bargaining tactic in the corporate arsenal. I can see Kristmason, Melnyk, Ruddy, and Bird all in a group hug again.

Or maybe they will be unfriendly rivals going forward.

In our Fantasy Planning Ottawa game, let’s speculate on what could happen if the existing partnership doesn’t get up off the mat. Err, the map.

There can be Life after Death

The NCC will still have a strong hand, owning the land, and now with a much greater appreciation of what can and needs to be done. They may even have some vision about what could be achieved. After years of work, there is a almost-finished plan at hand. Discarding it will cause a delay of another decade or more. The NCC needs the plan to work.

Melnyk will still have a strong hand, since the NCC doesn’t want just another neighbourhood, but they want something high profile, a focus point, or as they say “of national significance”. An arena cum convention centre for politicians fits that bill nicely, and apparently Melnyk needs a stream of development revenues to pay for that arena. Is there anything else waiting to swoop in and fit that bill? What other options does Melnyk have?

Trinity will still have a strong hand, since it owns adjacent development lands, and has some proprietary interest in the plan as developed to date. It is intellectual property of enormous value. The NCC and Melnyk can’t just go ahead and appropriate it. I think there is less grounds for damages for forgone profits if they are pushed out, but the courts are amazing things and speculations of future millions would turn into some sort of net present value.

The City of Ottawa will sputter and wave its hands and make small time political hay, but its role and value is low. They’ve abdicated most master planning to the more competent folks at the consortium, lead by Graham Bird Assoc. They city has already built the two transit stations and the line, so its contribution is already spent, leaving the city with little leverage or bargaining power.

This being Ottawa, national politics of the grubbiest sort abounds in the project. The current government may wish to have a new plan to replace one launched by the previous government. Except the current government fingerprints are all over this scheme too.

Leviosa IllumiNation

Multiple scenarios abound as to how the current plan can be salvaged. Here’s mine:

The Feds, owners of the land, and its spokesperson T2, need something to meet the carbon reduction targets they boast about meeting but aren’t,  that isn’t going to directly siphon money out of taxpayer pockets, who are growing apprehensive. Much better to do it subtly. So T2 announces a grand new urban demonstration harnessing the wonderous powers of all federal agencies and departments and the universities and private sector in all its diversity to construct the eco city of the future.

The jobs! The leadership! The wondrous export of Canadian expertise. Future money bonanza! In addition to the carbon neutrality of the actual project, there is tons of carbon to spew with spurious comparisons to “typical” or “average” carbon emissions somewhere unnamed.

A delightfully fuzzy project with great greenwashing and political theatre opportunities with measurable results/accountability far down the line. Housing for the middle class! Built by aboriginals! It’s all investments, not spending!

Ad nauseum.

The plan needs a major hub, so I’ll assume they need Melynk’s arena. So he’ll get some sort of money flow.

Trinity, alas, is the most expendable. There are other developers. And the current plan wasn’t to be all built by Trinity, the plan was to immediately sell off various lots to the other junior “partners” who would finance and build the school, the seniors residences, the low-income housing, the condos and the apartments.

I predict the Feds would create a new agency to take over the NCC role as master developer, perhaps Canada Lands Corp could do it, but more likely the politicians need a pasture to put out old party bagmen and the unelectable that they can’t stuff into the Senate.

There is enormous patronage potential here, and rewards to be dolled out to ridings where-ever the governing party needs to inject some money or good news. Note, the project will take decades to build out, during which time the party in power will change, and fresh hangers on and constituencies would reap the rewards, so there is plenty for everybody and even more where that came from!

Trinity would have to be paid for its share of the plan, of course, some of that would be real money. Some of it might be a real estate parcel on the site. But some of it can be hidden away deep in the federal budget. Maybe Public Works could hold a free and fair and open competition for additional office space the feds suddenly discover they need, and Trinity wins that bid allowing it to build its proposed 27 storey office tower at 900 Albert … thus making that whole project an immediate go ahead and less-risky (risk-free?) venture. Maybe sprinkle some of that carbon neutral seed money on that side of Albert too.

There still remains the issue of what the real estate developments actually “contribute” to the arena. I presume the contribution would be a portion of the proceeds when the partnership or master developer sells off lots. Or maybe a levy on each sq ft of condo sold. Or maybe a ongoing levy on each foot of rentable office, commercial, and rental residential space … or maybe all of those plus some other more imaginative schemes.

Melnyk had a good point when he identified Trinity’s 900 Albert as a competitor freeloading off its proximity to the Arena site. But the same applies to the Claridge east-Flats developments which miraculously super-sized and jumped up to the edge of the IllumiNation site when it was announced. And lets not forget the 3 – 50-storey towers the city will sell the Tom Brown site for once the community rink (or at least ice time)  is built adjacent to the new Sens Arena. And the high rise potential of the city-owned perpetually vacant Bayview Yards site.

Everyone’s pain would be less if more geese were plucked with less hissing. So I’d propose some sort of “special development charge” or levy or tax increment added to property tax bills for not just the IllumiNation site, but also including the not-yet-built portions of East Flats, the 900 Albert, City Centre,  and Tom Brown sites, the Bayview Yards site, and that portion of Zibi on the Islands.

But excluding all the existing developed space and residents (that includes me) who might escape a direct levy but who will pay higher taxes due to the greater value of their properties being near the Arena and transit system.

With some political will, a good sales pitch, the pressing needs of announceables before the next election, yeah, IllumiNation can be raised. Levisoa. Speculation of its death are greatly exaggerated.

We may not yet need that wooden stake.



if you haven’t noticed, the above scenario is remarkably similar to the one employed by Paris and France to salvage and relaunch the Clichy-Batignolles site in Paris, as outlined in the previous stories here.  Who said we learn from travel?






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