Senators owner says new arena needed because 18-year-old one “was not built to last”

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is moving ahead with a full-court press (I know, I know, mixed sports metaphor, but I don’t actually know if there’s a hockey term for this) for a new downtown arena for his team, which he says would be a “game-changer” that “impacts the city in a huge way; it impacts the organization in a huge way.” And for those  wondering about why anyone needs to replace an arena that was just opened in 1996, Melnyk has this to say:

“This building, believe it or not, was not built to last 30 to 40 years like people think. We spent a lot of money to keep this building looking the way it is, but … you have to build a new one eventually. I hope in my lifetime,” Melnyk said.

That’s right: The Senators owner (not Melnyk at the time, but his predecessor Rod Bryden) may have spent $188 million and gotten a controversial rezoning of farmland and collected federal money and loan guarantees for a highway interchange and then dumped all its debt through bankruptcy, but he didn’t do that because he wanted an arena that would last! Everybody knows that arenas don’t last 30 or 40 years these days. Or even 20, apparently.

The backstory, of course, is that Bryden wanted to use the arena as the anchor of a suburban retail district, and then that didn’t work so well (see: bankruptcy), so it makes some sense that they’d be interested in moving downtown. Why Ottawa itself would want to chip in to make that happen — and devote municipally publicly owned land to the project as well, instead of dedicating it to another development project that might not require subsidies — is less clear, but Melnyk is sure to keep saying “impacts the city in a huge way” over and over until somebody starts to believe it.


13 comments on “Senators owner says new arena needed because 18-year-old one “was not built to last”

  1. Just a small correction. The land they are talking about in downtown Ottawa is actually federally owned land. It’s owned by the National Capital Commission (NCC) which is a crown corporation of the government of Canada.

    Someone needs to ask Melnyk why the following teams don’t seem to be talking about replacing their arenas (AFAIK – info from wikipedia):
    – Anaheim, San Jose (opened in 1993)
    – St Louis, Chicago (opened in 1994)
    – Vancouver, Boston (opened in 1995)
    – Tampa, Montreal, Nashville, Buffalo, Philadelphia (opened in 1996 – same as Ottawa)
    – Washington (opened in 1997)

  2. Shhhhh! Don’t let the Sharks know how old their arena is, they might want to put the city on the hook again to upgrade or replace it.

    I live near to and get to the SAP center about once a year for an event of some sort and the place looks as good as the day it opened. So far has stood the test of time.

  3. I’m not a fan of teams seeking to replace arenas/stadiums that are still new-ish, but placing an arena waaaay out in Kanata (20 km or 15 miles from Ottawa) was a bad decision. The team struggled financially like the Coyotes (who also placed an arena in the suburbs of Phoenix), even going into bankruptcy.

    I just don’t want to see taxpayers funding this, though I’m a bit delusional about that nowadays.

  4. @Herry

    For the rest of this season can I please point your direction to Uniondale and how wrong you are wrong assuming its only the Senators?

  5. Larry: Thanks for the correction, fixed now.

    So the NCC is in control of the site, and the NCC is controlled by parliament? Why would they want to give a deal to Melnyk?

  6. They wouldn’t.

    Mr. Melnyk is officially a resident of Barbados, I believe, and as such pays significantly less federal tax than he otherwise might.

    Still, he could always start making major contributions to the federal conservative party (or even bigger ones if he already does that)… that should get him a Senate seat and all the federally owned land he wants…

    If I remember the original Senators saga correctly, the real estate play in Kanata was created by the Sens original original owner, Bruce Firestone. Bryden stepped in when Firestone could not complete the project (can’t remember if this was due to very low demand or lack of capital… or a combination etc, but ultimately Firestone’s plan went under, possibly taking him with it). Bryden may have tried to revive the project, or convert it from mainly residential to commercial etc, can’t recall.

    Mr. Melnyk bought the team and arena effectively out of bankruptcy, paying around $180m for both as I recall (more than $100m less than the two cost to create).

    Kanata has grown over the last 20 years… so the arena isn’t quite as “monolithic” as it once was, but I believe the real driver here is that Melnyk is now facing competition from two heavily renovated sports facilities in the Glebe itself (the civic centre and the new football stadium/park)… something he never experienced prior to this year.

    It’s not so much that his toy is old and stale, it’s that someone has a newer (albeit smaller) one.

  7. Ben Y:

    Uniondale (at least for another season… I think), Glendale, Sunrise, Auburn Hills… plenty of arenas have been built outside of “downtown” areas.

    I’m not sold that being ‘downtown’ is actually the be-all for any sports team. Lots and lots of football stadia are not ‘downtown’. If your fans enjoy the experience, they’ll travel 30-45 minutes to watch (particularly for once/twice a week games like hockey and football). It’s also important to note that a significant number of fans live in the suburbs, meaning they’ll be travelling one way or another. Suburban stadiums may be harder to get to, but they are also cheaper to park at (in most cases) and use less expensive land (which in some cases is offset by the need for new roads/interchanges to get people to previously unserved areas).

    Arenas have more uses and take up less space than football or baseball stadia, but they also take very valuable land permanently off the tax rolls when placed downtown. In any calculation of ‘benefit’, you have to account for the loss of that annual tax revenue to the host city as well.

    Unfortunately, very few people think beyond the sound bite these days…

  8. @John

    I think my point was that if a team is relevant they’ll get butts in the seat one way or the other. Granted its also last season hype but the Isles seem to be getting people to the middle of no where. Considering Canada is hockey central the same should be for the Senators if they could compete.

  9. The fashion of “downtown sports arena” is a relatively new one. Back in the early iron age, when owners built their own stadia, the idea of using the most expensive and scarce land in a city to build a rarely-used sports arena would have been considered insane. Hence you have/had Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, etc.

    Only when owners jumped on the never-proven “economic development” bandwagon in the late 1980s/1990s did downtown land (bought at taxpayer expense or through eminent domain) become attractive as a sports location.

    The same problem exists–why would anyone use such valuable land to (at best) operate a t-shirt store that operates year round when the “restaurants” inside are expressly designed to take business away from the local community?

  10. 18 years? He’s way behind the curve on the plutocratic sports team ownership handbook. You start talking “outdated” and “needs renovation” after 5 years, and full replacement after 10. You wait till the thing is 18 years old to start trying to extort some stadium cash, and the public might think you can play there for a generation or something utterly crazy like that!

  11. This might be the best comment on arenas ever: ‘why would anyone use such valuable land to (at best) operate a t-shirt store that operates year round when the “restaurants” inside are expressly designed to take business away from the local community?’. Great work, Gdub.

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