Senators Alphabet: Q is for Queensway

Q is for Queensway, as in the section of highway which Senators fans travel, south-southwest to Scotiabank Place, in Kanata, Ontario. For some, the journey to watch a Sens game in their hometown rink starts hours before puck drop, as they slowly inch across the sprawling city, traveling by car from Orleans. Others pile on 400 series buses along the transit way; loud and boisterous, these packed buses are a rite of passage for Sens fans. A lucky few make the relatively short trip from west end communities and struggle to find that close parking spot.

The location of the Palladium/Corel Centre/Scotiabank Place has always been controversial in Ottawa and among Sens fans. The location is divisive, as was apparent during the team's playoff run in 2007. As the Sens racked up victories and two quick series wins, the team found itself in the conference finals for the second time in four seasons with a sense of excitement and anticipation. As the spring wore on, fans took to the patios on Elgin Street and the Byward Market, and a city which had been burned by playoff failure so many times before slowly warmed to the possibility that this was the year.

By the third round, the festivities became more organized; Elgin Street turned into the Sens Mile during the series against the Sabres. During the break between the end of the Buffalo series and the start of the finals, the city of Ottawa got in on the act with a giant Sens flag draping its building; the city sponsored rallies, barbeques, and screened the final games for fans on the lawn of City Hall. Scotiabank Place got in on the party, with concerts in the Red Zone before games.

Again, the location of the rink divided the Sens community. The arena's location in the west-end meant the celebrations were sprawling and inaccessible to many fans. Some openly wondered what the celebrations would look like with a downtown arena. Both the LeBreton Flats location and the existing sports complex at Lansdowne Park would connect nicely to the Sens Mile.

New proposals for the Scotiabank Place site continue to rehash the old arguments about the location of new sports and entertainment facilities in the city. A proposal for a new casino in Ottawa has Cyril Leeder arguing for the viability of the arena's Kanata site while many suggest a downtown facility is the only location convenient for residents.

Similar debates occur when the discussion shifts to the future. NHL arenas have a much shorter shelf-life than the Original Six-era rinks and their 2nd generation successors. If the life of a newer rink is around 30 years, than Scotiabank Place is already well into its middle-age as was suggested in an interesting 6th Sens blog post in November. Those interested in the viability of a future, more centrally located rink at Bayview Yards should check out the link, it's well worth a read.

Ultimately, Sens fans need to remember two things when dreaming of a downtown rink as they sit on a bus that's been pulled over by the cops following a rowdy Battle of Ontario (this has happened to me twice): firstly, any new rink will have to navigate the three levels of government (federal, provincial, and municipal) which impacted the original rink's location when the land was bought by Terrace in 1989. While LeBreton Flats seemed to be the perfect location to many fans, in reality, it was never going to be an option. The federal government went to great lengths to acquire the site in the 1960s for redevelopment and to build new government offices, expropriating the land and evicting hundreds of residents. Due to 19th century industrial use and decades of snow dumping, the land was incredibly polluted. Ottawa's ownership group would have had to clean up this toxic soil before building any structure (this was a necessary step in the building of the new War Museum at the same site). In addition, it seems implausible that a new downtown structure as significant as an NHL-calibre facility would be built in the future without resolving the location of the long-disputed new interprovincial bridge. Development of downtown transportation would be necessary and would also need to be considered in any future construction.

Bruce Firestone, a former real estate developer and the founder of the franchise, discusses some of these issues in an interesting post titled "Why Scotiabank Place is Where it Is". In it, Firestone examines some issues of arena site selection and construction many fans don't consider. This includes issues such as suitable space for parking and soil conditions suitable for burying half the arena (to avoid the inconvenience of an aboveground arena like Madison Square Gardens).

Firestone's explanation reminds us of the second factor Sens fans need to remember: the location of Scotiabank Place was also determined by its suitability for achieving the goals of the original ownership group. Firestone's firm, Terrace Investments, didn't have the liquid assets necessary to purchase an NHL team. The Kanata site allowed the organization to buy 600 acres suitable for rezoning. 100 acres was needed for the rink but just as important was the extra 500 acres of farmland that would be rezoned for commercial use as part of the deal. Firestone needed the extra rezoned land to sell for a profit. According to Firestone, the land was bought at $12,000 an acre and he hoped the value would increase to $112,000 per acre with rezoning (he also notes that the land around Scotiabank Place was going for $300,000 to $550,000 as of 2009). The hoped for $100,000 profit per acre would exactly equal the $50,000,000 tag for an NHL expansion team. In short, the location was necessary for securing and financing the purchase of the franchise.

It's likely that the franchise's next arena will reflect the goals of Ottawa's various governmental agencies and the needs of the team's owners. This is one of the most frustrating things about the location for fans: ultimately, it's not about the hockey.

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