In April 2016 it was announced that the much-anticipated bid to redevelop LeBreton Flats was won by RendezVous LeBreton Group’s Illumination LeBreton. It’s hard to believe that after decades of near-vacancy and intense competition between developers a plan has been made for the land’s future. So, what is Illumination LeBreton and what does the RendezVous LeBreton Group promise that is more favourable than the opposing developer Devcore Canderel DLS Group proposal?
Illumination LeBreton Visionary
The development slogan boasts of “Linking, Connecting and Completing” and it promises to celebrate the past while inspiring a bright future. Illumination LeBreton’s main design principles are Heritage, Connectivity, Vibrancy, Sustainability and Place-making. RendezVous LeBreton promises to harness LeBreton Flats and the city of Ottawa’s cultural, political, economic and entrepreneurial spirit which was originally fostered by the industrialists of Chaudière Falls over a century ago.
As a central region, Illumination LeBreton will also strive to connect each adjacent neighbourhood, from downtown near Parliament Hill to the west’s Nepean Bay Inlet as well as Gatineau across the river. RendezVous LeBreton describes the area as “the final linking piece of a great puzzle”, creating an infused dynamic between the joining historic regions. Illumination LeBreton will embellish Ottawa’s personality and energy through innovative urban space, districts and street activity. Optimizing the region’s varying climates, the development will focus on maintaining sunlight, both indoors and outdoors, and introducing seasonal activities like outdoor festivals in the summertime and a skating canal in the winter.
Consequentially to the location of LeBreton Flats, Illumination LeBreton will focus on long-term sustainability for the 21-hectare region. 1.2 million cubic meters of contaminated land will be treated and revitalized while environmental stewardship and sustainable living will be avidly promoted by residential and commercial stakeholders alike. The “One Planet Action Plan” devised for Illumination LeBreton actually has ten principles with aspiring and attainable goals aiming for long-term environmental and social improvements in all aspects of an everyday lifestyle.
The fifth and final intent for Illumination LeBreton lies within Place-making. As RendezVous LeBreton Group puts it, “the greatest urban environments around the world are places – neighbourhoods that have memorable characteristics and identifiable personalities. These places are an energized blend of iconic architectures, sublime public spaces and exciting or pleasing activities. They are places where people are proud to live, where people are drawn to and where the cities’ identities are framed and formed.” This is the primary end goal of Illumination LeBreton and it plans to be executed in three phases over 10 years.
How? Illumination LeBreton’s Public and Non-Public Anchors
What exactly will Illumination LeBreton incorporate to create such innovation, connectivity and distinction in the City of Ottawa? RendezVous LeBreton’s proposal includes public anchors like the Major Event Centre, Sensplex and Abilities Centre and non-public anchors like commercial, retail and residential components, including affordable housing.
The biggest draw is the 18,000-seat Major Event Centre (MEC) which joins the adjacent LeBreton Square capable of holding a whopping 28,000 more civilians. The MEC will be an incredible facility and a new capital landmark for the city of Ottawa. With year-round public access and events catered to the entire city demographics, the Major Event Centre and LeBreton Square have the potential to restore civic life in the remarkable district. Furthermore, the MEC promises new views of the city, including Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River, from its glass-walled exterior and groundbreaking green roof project.
However, the most important and enticing aspect of the MEC is its proposed tenant: the Ottawa Senators. In a country like Canada, the capital’s National Hockey League is quite the rage and fuels the city’s spirit. However, their current home is a 30-kilometre drive outside the city center. During peak events like Senator games and popular music tours, the trek out to the Canadian Tire Center can be slow, aggravating, and to some locals, sadly not worth it.
Illumination LeBreton will have a community-use ice rink facility a few steps from Ottawa’s downtown core. It will consist of two NHL-sized hockey rinks, being the Ottawa Senator’s home for practice and games and is a viable place to host national and international hockey tournaments. The potential for local spirit and economic growth is not only exciting but exactly what Canada’s capital needs. Attached to the Sensplex will be an Abilities Centre, the second of its kind in Canada. It will be a community centre that focuses on sports, recreation, arts, music, dance and life skills improvements. It will also incorporate a centre of excellence for people with disabilities.
Furthermore, the MEC is expected to bring 175 events per year, roughly 30 more than the current Canadian Tire Centre. Only 30% of these events are hockey related, leaving room for many more performances catering people of all ages and interests. The MEC and joining Sensplex and Abilities Centre will be located directly between the Pimisi and Bayview LRT Stations. Walkways both on and above ground will connect the three important landmarks, making every aspect of the surrounding area easily accessible to the public. 80% of the expected crowd will arrive by public transit, bike or foot, however, there will also be over 8,000 underground parking spots in the area.
Another unifying aspect is the LeBreton Flats aqueduct that has been so sadly neglected over the years. It will become a historic anchor in Illumination LeBreton and will transform the water channel in an iconic new public space with a boardwalk, cafes and retail space. In the winter the aqueduct will become a public area of outdoor skating, similar to the Rideau Canal.
Other public anchors within Illumination LeBreton includes a Multimedia Nightwalk, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, a new home for the permanent installation of the Governor General’s prestigious National Honours Awards and a revamped home base for popular events like Ottawa Bluesfest and the Ottawa Race Weekend. Lastly, the proposal includes a new Ottawa Central Library which will sit on the corner of Albert and Booth Street which will become a new and beautiful destination in of itself.
Although commercial and residential plans aren’t concrete, the Illumination LeBreton proposal includes a hotel with 800 suites as well as 4,400 residential units. An impressive portion will be dedicated to affordable housing thanks to RendezVous LeBreton’s partnership with the not-for-organization Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation. After reaching full completion of the project by the planned date of 2026, Illumination LeBreton will have up to 12,000 citizens working there and around 7,000 residing in the area.
The Losing Bid: LeBreton Re-Imagined
The runner-up in the LeBreton Flats redevelopment bid was LeBreton Re-Imagined by the DCDLS Group. It included a Canadian Communication Centre and Ottawa Public Library, both similar to Illumination LeBreton, as well as a Canadensis Walk acting as a uniting feature to enrich the social and cultural draws for visitors. However, the main difference was a proposed “World Automotive Experience” Museum. This was instead of the NHL Sens headquarters and a lot less exciting than a new home for the locally praised hockey team.
The main issue with the LeBreton Re-Imagined redevelopment plan was its lack of confirmed tenants. The selection committee was worried about minimal support and information for the financial viability of the public anchors. Although Illumination LeBreton also lacked concrete investors, the committee knew that a Sensplex arena and similar ventures were successful from previous models established in the region, such as the current Canadian Tire Centre. Not only was an automotive museum a whole new idea, but it lacked the lustre that the Sens would definitely bring downtown.
Another important advantage the Illumination LeBreton had was better overall planning. The MEC’s location is perfectly placed between the Pimisi and Bayview LRT Stations near LeBreton which supports their “connectivity” design principle. The selection committee also preferred the divided districts of Illumination LeBreton and plans to cover the LRT tracks, making the area walker and biker friendly. They felt the opposing LeBreton Re-imagined lacked innovation and that the use of big city blocks would minimize the “walkability” flow of the area. The “social sustainability” of Illumination LeBreton was an easy winner in contrast.
Nevertheless, there is still uncertainty about the redevelopment as a whole. Officials speculate that Illumination LeBreton’s original proposal is expected to change as planning moves forward. There are also many questions about overall cost, somewhere around $3.5 billion, and the timeline of the entire project from start to completion. The NCC and RendezVous LeBreton Group must still get together and negotiate. With a piece of land that has taken so long to even reach this point, one can assume that negotiation will not be a short and easy process. Only time will tell so stay tuned as more details regarding Illumination LeBreton unfold!