NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Flats: 'Good luck with that'

Every few years, the NCC makes some announcement grandiose enough to rouse the national media to have a laugh at the NCC's expense. And so it is with the NCC's latest call for help with building something truly grand on the Flats. From the Globe and Mail:

Hear ye, Hear ye.

The National Capital Commission, much-maligned steward of federal lands in the Ottawa region, is calling on the "world's best" to transform one of the last patches of undeveloped downtown real estate into a new signature destination for Canada.

"We envisage a bold, new anchor institution that will welcome the public, serve as an economic driver, feature innovative use of the land, and bring design excellence, animation and a unique public experience to the nation's capital," according to an invitation for redevelopment proposals on the agency's website.

Good luck with that.

LeBreton Flats - just west and down the slope from Parliament Hill - was a bustling industrial neighbourhood until the NCC expropriated it in 1962. The Crown Corporation promptly evicted residents, and flattened homes, factories and warehouses to make way for what was to be a massive government complex.

It never happened. Instead, LeBreton Flats became a sad monument to bungled urban planning, missed opportunity and shrunken ambition.

[...]There was a glimmer of hope in 2005 when part of the site became the Canadian War Museum and a park along the banks of the Ottawa River. The NCC later selected Claridge Homes to create a new housing community nearby. A decade later, fewer than 400 people live in two small condo towers, even as the city of nearly one million has sprawled out in every other direction.

[...]The NCC has missed the building boom of the past decade.

But that's nothing new. The NCC also missed the booms of the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. Since the late 1980s, it has watched a long list of potential anchor tenants go elsewhere, including an NHL hockey venue, a CFL football stadium, a casino, a convention centre, the National Gallery, the Canadian Museum of History and shopping malls, as well as new headquarters for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the Department of National Defence and various other departments and agencies.

The government is also competing against itself. Just a few miles west of LeBreton Flats, the government is hoping to entice developers to help it revitalize a Soviet-style compound of drab government buildings known as Tunney's Pasture. There is only so much private-sector investment available in a city of Ottawa's size.

It's not clear what Mr. Baird and the NCC have in mind. But the use of terms such as "anchor" and "economic driver" suggest retail or hotels. Sea World or a Six Flags amusement park would seem out of the question, with the War Museum and Parliament Hill nearby. But who knows?

Globe and Mail: Ottawa's own backyard a land of missed development opportunities [5 October 2014]

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the Archives: Durrel, Pigott and Haydon have great plans

The Citizen has republished a blast from the past - the three heads of the over-governed metropolis reflect on Ottawa in 2000, from October 8, 1986:

About two kilometres from city hall, Pigott is in her downtown office talking about the NCC's mandate to plan Ottawa for all Canadians.

She is proud of the NCC's accomplishments, saying she doubts Canadians would have such a beautiful capital to boast about if there wasn't a federal commission overseeing planning of federal lands.

The NCC will continue to jealously guard its properties and parkland in order to develop or preserve them for the benefit of all Canadians, she says.

LeBreton Flats, one of the last vacant pieces of downtown property, will be developed with national and cultural themes in mind, she says. So would Victoria Island, Brewery Creek and Jacques Cartier Park in Hull.

One of her ideas for the LeBreton lands or perhaps Victoria Island is a series of pavilions representing the provinces. Here, history from all parts of the country would be on display, a project that Pigott says will be of great interest to children.

The federal Canlands property in the downtown core, eyed by Ottawa as the major solution to its parking woes, must also be planned with the attitude that only a project befitting the capital should be developed here.

Another NCC project is to develop a ceremonial route in time for the 1988 opening of the new National Gallery on Sussex and the Museum of Civilization in Hull.

The route would consist of Wellington Street, Sussex Drive, the Alexandra Bridge, Laurier Street in Hull and the Portage Bridge.

Pigott would also like to work with local government to see what can be done with Metcalfe Street, which she says has been ravaged by poor planning. She says if redeveloped properly, it could be turned into a "beautiful boulevard" that could serve as the gateway to Parliament Hill.

NCC plans also call for a new multi-million dollar headquarters that would incorporate three historic buildings facing Confederation Square. The three are the Central Chambers, Scottish Ontario Chambers and the small building in between.

Citizen: OTTAWA 2000: Durrel, Pigott and Haydon have great plans [4 September 2013]

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Canada and the World Pavilion for rent

When last heard from, the long-vacant Canada and the World Pavilion was the subject of rumored turf battles by various federal agencies vying to occupy it for office space, and filling with mould. Well the mould problem has been sorted apparently and the NCC is now putting it up for rent. From the Citizen:

The former Canada and the World Pavilion, whose future has been the source of lively debate over the years, is for rent.

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is seeking a public or private sector tenant who can turn the vacant building beside the Rideau Falls into a national attraction.

"We're looking for any kind of proposal," says Mary Ann Waterston, NCC director of real estate management. "Public access is very important to us. We are looking for something that would have a national purpose so that it could benefit all Canadians. It's an absolutely stunning building."

[...]Waterston didn't want to speculate on possible uses. "We want to see what's out there. What people's ideas will be."

However, a museum rather than an office building would be an example of something with broad public interest, she said. "I wouldn't accept a restaurant."

In the past, the NCC considered leasing it to an embassy but decided "that isn't what we want for that particular location," says Waterston. "There are other places in the city where that can take place."

According to a 2010 market analysis, the annual rent should be $254,000, not including operating costs and taxes.

[...]In 2007, the Governor General's office eyed the pavilion as a showplace for its Chancellery of Honour. At the same time, the Ottawa Art Gallery lobbied for it.

Then mould was discovered in 2008, which has since been remediated, said Waterston. "There's no mould."

Expressions of interest will be accepted until April 30.

Citizen: Wanted: Tenant for former Canada and the World pavilion [28 February 2012]
CBC: NCC looking for tenant for former Canada museum [28 February 2012]
Modern Ottawa: Someone please help save this building from the NCC [2 March 2012]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Horizon 2067: no one cares

Citizen columnist Andrew Cohen lays into the NCC for its fecklessness in crisscrossing the country consulting Canadians about vague plans with interminable time horizons:

Yes, it was a nice idea to imagine Ottawa in 56 years. No matter that this will cost $650,000, that 2067 is an eternity from now, and that the NCC is discredited in reputation and limited in authority in this orphaned city.

But why should that stop the jumped-up nation-builders at the NCC, who thought this one up so that Canadians could pretend to care about Ottawa? Yes, vision and ambition are commendable in a city with little of either. That the NCC, under CEO Marie Lemay's spirited leadership, wants to lead a conversation on making a great capital is lovely. But you don't do it with an expensive road-show that is more an exercise in public rather than a public exercise. You don't do it to solicit motherhood prescriptions, as Chianello points out, such as "sustainable," "inclusive," and "culturally vibrant."

And you don't do it by commissioning self-aggrandizing polls suggesting how good people feel about Ottawa (why, 80 per cent have a "positive" view!). Honestly, what does that mean?

[…]If the NCC really wants to do something more enduring and more useful than a standing ovation at the National Arts Centre, here are some ways to take the discussion from the heavens to the plains:

Understand that Ottawa doesn't have 56 years to contemplate itself. It is already far behind other cities in mass transit, public architecture and institutions (like a central library). It has to rush into the future, not amble, which is its instinct.

Persuade the federal government to look at Ottawa more favourably. Little will happen in its realm until it does. Urge it to build great institutions - a science museum, a national portrait gallery, a history museum - as well as turning the old U.S. embassy into an exhibition hall displaying our founding documents.

Develop the shores of the Ottawa River, which the Aga Khan and his Global Centre for Pluralism and others are discussing privately, but slowly. Do the same with the banks of the Rideau Canal. The new chalets look good, even if they cost too much at $750,000 each. Now try some exhibits for Winterlude that don't date to 1985.

Lace the city with bicycle paths. Explore green energy. Encourage innovative street vendors and different street food. Build an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island, finally.

Mandate beauty in new buildings. Fill those that sit empty, such as the Canada and the World Pavilion on Sussex Drive, which could house the embassies of Scandinavia in one place, as in Berlin. Don't allow new construction on the greensward near Rideau Hall.

Do the little things: more outdoor chairs, more rental bikes, more nature trails, more public art.

Stop thinking about 2067. No one cares. Think about 2027 and announce a plan for the next 15 years. A horizon we can see.

Citizen: Canadians don't love Ottawa [29 December 2011]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trouble at the mill

The NCC is having a hard time finding a tenant for its newly renovated mill building at Chaudière Falls, vacant since the last tenant, a legendarily bad restaurant, left a few years back. Could it be because there is absolutely nothing nearby? Yes, it could. From the Citizen:

The search for a classy new tenant to transform the old mill at Chaudière Falls into a major waterfront destination is turning into something of a fiasco as the National Capital Commission fails for the second time to find the right proposal.

However, the NCC, keen to develop the site because it sees the Ottawa River as part of its vision to transform the capital, is willing to try again. It has put out yet another request for proposals, hoping to be third-time lucky. It hopes to attract a museum, art gallery, spa or retail destination to the site and to turn it into a city hot spot.

[...]Built in 1842 when Ottawa was a backwater lumber town, it served for a number of years as the Mill restaurant. Since that lease expired and the restaurant closed, the NCC has spent $1.6 million to restore the building in hopes of getting a big draw to a site that covers more than 7,000 square feet on two floors.

Despite interest shown by more than 40 businesses earlier this year, not one made an offer. Saying the recession may have dampened interest, the commission put out a second call in June that attracted two proposals. Neither made the cut. NCC officials acknowledge the building is too small for a portrait gallery and may not be appropriate for a museum because it might not meet temperature and humidity requirements. Its location and heritage also pose problems.

"This is a historic site and that creates specific requirements," said NCC spokesman Jean Wolff. "We want to protect the heritage of the site and that requires a different way of handling it. That's part of the difficulty."

Keenberg, however, says the NCC might have to acknowledge what he thinks is obvious: The site is just not suitable for commercial development. Pedestrian access and walk-on traffic is so limited that business owners might not imagine the site's working financially.

The Mill sits between two busy roads with virtually no pedestrian traffic, beside the vacant Victoria Island and the equally vacant LeBreton Flats, neither of which, thanks the the NCC's meticulous planning, are scheduled to be anything other than vacant in the near or distant future.

Citizen: NCC to try, try again on Mill site [8 Sep 2009]
Citizen: Growing up on Victoria Island [29 Jun 2009]

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

PMO to decide fate of NCC tombstone

The fate of the NCC's vacant mouldy tombstone, the Canada and the World Pavilion, is now with the PMO, according to the Citizen:

Several prospective tenants have lined up to snag this scenic site by the Rideau Falls, including the Governor General, the Australian high commission and the municipal Ottawa Art Gallery. The battle has become so politically sensitive that the Prime Minister's Office has taken control of the file from the NCC.

Insiders say that the Governor General is the most likely winner of a long and vigorous lobbying campaign by the various parties to occupy the building and that the Ottawa Art Gallery, despite interventions from Mayor Larry O'Brien and vocal grassroots supporters, has virtually no hope of moving there from its cramped, drab location downtown in Arts Court.

The Aussies are in with a chance as payback for giving Canada a nice spot in Canberra for our high commission. Perennial no-hopers the Ottawa Art Gallery remain out of the running.

Citizen: PMO will decide fate of the Canada and the World Pavilion [7 May 2008]
NCC Watch: Ottawa Art Gallery news

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Creating a thriving pedestrian street

Mariah Cook contrasts Copenhagen's Strøget, Europe's longest pedestrian street, with Sparks Street in the Citizen:

Strøget is one of the world's great streets. Lined with historic buildings, it winds for 1.8 kilometres through the heart of the city and connects two squares. The attractively decorated stores run the gamut from top Danish companies such as Georg Jensen, for jewelry and works in silver, to fast food and jeans.

In contrast, Ottawa's pedestrian street - the Sparks Street Mall - has seen better days. On many winter mornings, smokers shiver in doorways. A few office workers hurry past vacant storefronts, blank walls, and undistinguished window displays. Busiest at lunch, the five-block mall offers little reason to linger past quitting time.

Yet, this is one of Ottawa's special streets. Full of history, it is located between Lyon and Elgin streets, one block south of Parliament Hill and surrounded by major national landmarks. Some of the city's finest heritage facades are found here. Intriguing shops such as the Snow Goose and the Astrolabe Gallery offer an alternative to chain-store homogeneity.

[...]This is a tale of two pedestrian streets. Both were created in the same period as a radical urban experiment - Strøget in 1962, Sparks in 1967. But they went in different directions. Strøget flourishes. Sparks struggles. How to revitalize Sparks has been a weighty question for years for retailers, city officials and the National Capital Commission.

It's not far-fetched to look to Copenhagen for ideas. It and Ottawa are capital cities with significant similarities. Copenhagen is 1.4 million, Ottawa nearing one million. Copenhagen knows about winter.

City planners in both cities strive for the same goals: more people living, shopping, walking and cycling in the inner city. And it can't be shrugged off as a European lifestyle that has nothing to do with us. Until 40 years ago, the Danes did not have a café culture. Now, outdoor cafés stretch the season to nine months by providing gas or electric heating lamps, wool blankets and cushions.

So, what happened in Ottawa?

"What they wanted to do was welcome the pedestrian back into downtown," says Mr. Gordon. But the welcome was shortlived. Sparks Street began to decline in the 1970s, when the federal government started to acquire buildings on Sparks, and adjacent streets were redeveloped as high-rise office districts, often with internal concourses.

Sparks became "an isolated island of pedestrian-friendly space in a traffic-dominated district," write Mr. Gordon and Mr. Bray. As the predominant land-owner, the federal government faces criticism for contributing too little to the street's vitality. Short-term leases on its shopfronts discourage merchants from investing in improvements.

Some federal buildings are largely empty, kept for some future use, and present a blank face to the street. Other buildings are closed to the public because of security.

"It kills the street," says Mr. Gordon. "It's fine to have a lot of federal civil servants on upper floors, but ground floors facing out should be small shops with doors on the street."

[...]There were high hopes that the CBC building, which opened in 2004, would become Ottawa's version of Citytv's MuchMusic building in Toronto, drawing crowds and generating excitement. The developer's architects and CBC executives promised a street-level window onto the live action of a one-acre newsroom.

Instead, it's almost impossible to see in and the architecture has been described by critic Rhys Phillips as "just another low-cost, banal building."

"The CBC has been the biggest disappointment," says Councillor Diane Holmes. "A whole block of deadness."

Up until a couple of years ago, the NCC's magic bullet for Sparks involved leveling buildings for a square and an underground parking lot. Time for someone else to take charge.

Ottawa Citizen: The Stroget Solution [22 Mar 2008]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pavilion overtaken by mould

Oh look, the NCC's vacant tombstone of waste, the Canada and the World Pavilion, has been rendered uninhabitable by mould:

But when an engineer from Public Works and Government Services Canada investigated the state of the building, which is owned by the National Capital Commission, he found toxigenic mould.

"There is a high risk to the Crown to proceed with this project," engineer Joseph Wong reported.

"This facility presents a risk for developing significant mould-related problems that can induce allergies and other health and comfort problems," he wrote.

He reported that replacement of walls to solve the mould issue in the office areas had not fixed the problem.

"The issue of mould will not go away," wrote Mr. Wong. "It will be a great challenge to mitigate the potential dispersion of mould spores within the building due to the traffic and openness of the space."

[...]The source of the water appears to have been a leaking water intake at the Rideau Falls power plant next door, owned by Fortis Power. Repairs were done last summer and fall and now the NCC is waiting to see if there is more water infiltration when the spring runoff begins.

In one of his e-mails last spring, Mr. Wong said the high water table in the area could pose a long-term threat. "This problem will never go away," he said.

Typically, the Citizen had to obtain this information via an access to information request. What else did they discover? Dig:

Early in 2007, the Governor General's office was eyeing 50 Sussex Dr., steps from the prime minister's residence and Rideau Hall, as a showplace for its Chancellery of Honours. Despite some Ottawans' desire to see it put to other uses, documents released to the Citizen under access to information legislation show there was a rush within the federal government to get the picturesque property ready for the Governor General.

There were plans to have the Governor General's operation moved in, at least temporarily, by July 1, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean would open the new quarters to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Order of Canada.

So the NCC made a secret deal last spring and the Governor General would be in the Pavilion now if the mould hadn't gotten there first. So much for the Ottawa Art Gallery and its plans for the Firestone Collection.

The NCC is currently undertaking openness and transparency initiatives. These are evidently irrelevant to the actual day-to-day operation of the NCC.

Ottawa Citizen: NCC's spectacular Sussex Drive property plagued by mould [11 Feb 2008]
Ottawa Citizen: Another secret deal [12 Feb 2008]

Friday, January 25, 2008

NCC stands up for portrait gallery in Ottawa

The NCC took a break from stymieing attempts by the Ottawa Art Gallery to put its collection in the unused Canada and the World Pavilion to announce they think the Portrait Gallery of Canada should be located in Ottawa-Gatineau. From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission's board sent a message to the Harper government yesterday that the Portrait Gallery of Canada should be located in Ottawa-Gatineau, but it stopped short of urging the government to reconsider its plans for the institution.

Under the Conservatives' plan, the gallery could end up in the capital or one of eight other cities, built by a private developer.

The NCC board, under chairman Russell Mills, unanimously passed a motion at a meeting yesterday calling for the gallery to be located in the capital region along with the rest of the country's cultural institutions.

Former Ottawa mayor Jacquelin Holzman, a board member, presented a companion motion that called on the government to reconsider allowing the gallery to be located outside the capital area, but she received no support.

A plan to call on the government to also scrap its decision on private sector involvement was also discussed, but abandoned.

Ottawa Citizen: NCC wants portrait gallery in Ottawa [25 Jan 2008]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rethink the brownbelt

After recently trashing the Gréber plan in his column, Ken Gray at the Citizen weighs in on Chairman Mills' Greenbelt musings and decides somewhat counter-intuitively that what's needed is another Gréber-style uber-plan:

The Gréber plan, unveiled when the automobile reached its ascendancy, is out of date with today's environmental concerns. So too is the Greenbelt.

Areas such as the farmland between the city and Kanata as well as between the core and Orléans has no special environmental significance. So too the agricultural land bordering Greenbank Road. Rather than develop working farmland at the far reaches of Ottawa's suburbs and extending the polluting commutes of its residents, why not develop land of little consequence inside the Greenbelt nearer Ottawa's downtown?

[...]Mr. Mills is correct again when he says that intense development in the Greenbelt would contribute to making rapid transit successful. Right again on the need for an east-end bridge to get heavy trucks out of downtown. Bang on concerning opening the region's river and canal banks to people. Correct yet again on the importance of a national portrait gallery to the capital.

All this requires a second Gréber plan, for all those reasons and one more. An independent study would operate above and beyond city and NCC planners who have done a magnificent job of profoundly botching planning the area outside the Parliamentary district. The list of NCC planning debacles is too large to list in this space and city planning appears confined to building tract housing and big malls with huge parking lots.

Which brings me to my one quibble with Mr. Mills's musings on the future of region and the NCC. Other than trans-provincial traffic (and Mr. Mills would do well if he could find a way to get the Prince of Wales Bridge carrying commuter rail), the Crown corporation should not play a role in transportation. It has little experience and the NCC's track record in planning where it has some knowledge is appalling, let alone on transportation. For all its failures, at least the city has run a bus service and might some day create a functioning light-rail service.

By a "second Gréber plan" then, he means a plan that is different from the original plan in every important respect: not automobile-centric, and not implemented by the NCC.

Citizen: Rethinking Ottawa's Brownbelt [16 Nov 2007]

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Chair suggests developing parts of the greenbelt

In an interview with the Citizen, the most recent Chairman of the NCC Russel Mills suggests developing the greenbelt along major routes to make better use of existing infrastructure:

"There is an awful lot of gasoline being burned in Ottawa every year by people driving through the Greenbelt. It's not environmentally sound.

"There needs to be some long-term assessment of the future of the Greenbelt," he says. It "was a good thing in its day, but it was intended to contain the growth of the city and it didn't."

Mills says the Greenbelt is a "sacred cow" and "the people of Ottawa would rightly resist just opening it up to development, but it seems to me we can make better use of it, more environmentally sound use of it, than we do now."

Mills is particularly interested in large swaths of fields on both sides of the Queensway between Kanata and Bells Corners, and on the 174 leading to Orleans. While it's "nice to look at out the window," it might make more sense to develop it.

The NCC chairman's willingness to at least consider such a change could be an important factor as the city revises its development plan. City bureaucrats have also been quietly discussing the idea of Greenbelt development and will release a discussion paper on it soon.

All well and good, if they could avoid building just another Terry Fox Business Park, but really, what are the odds? Mills also likes the idea of a bridge across the river in the east end, and a portrait gallery of some kind.

Citizen: A radical idea for the Greenbelt [3 Nov 2007]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tombstone of Waste in diplomatic tug-of-war

A slow news Monday has the National Post summing up the spat about what to do with the NCC's failed Canada and the World Pavilion:

It is one of Ottawa's most coveted sites -- a vacant two-storey building set among parkland, with the picturesque Rideau Falls cascading next door, an unrivalled view of the Ottawa River and Quebec, and a location just down from the official residences of the Prime Minister and Governor-General.

The site of 50 Sussex Drive used to house the Canada & World Pavilion, a $5.7-million taxpayer-funded museum opened in 2001 by the National Capital Commission to draw tourists and showcase Canadian accomplishments.

It featured, among other things, great sporting moments and Celine Dion's Grammy. Admission was free, but attendance was poor and the building closed four years later in 2005. It became a white elephant along this important stretch of road. The "NCC Watch" Web site dubbed it among Ottawa's "Tombstones of Waste."

The Governor-General wants the site for the Chancellery of Honours, the office that looks after the Order of Canada and Bravery Awards, and for a public exhibit to focus on Canada's honours system and the Heraldry.

The Ottawa Art Gallery, which houses a number of prominent Canadian works, is also vying for the space. The Australian High Commission is understood to have been interested and the NCC has acknowledged it has spoken informally to some embassies.

A NCC spokesman said last week it has not reached a decision and is also looking elsewhere within the "federal family" to occupy the space, but did not provide a full list of those being considered.

So, no change there, then.

National Post: Ottawa address in diplomatic tug-of-war [13 Aug 2007]

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Governor General to annex Canada and the World Pavilion

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Governor General wants the NCC's failed Pavilion on Sussex for offices. Well, who wouldn't? With some sweet views of the river and Rideau Falls, the pavilion would make a nice quiet spot for more of the federal bureaucracy. Problem 1, the building was designed as a museum and refitting it for offices would require further expensive modifications to the $6 million-and-counting white elephant on the falls. The Ottawa Art Gallery, whose extensive Canadian collection is currently housed in the inadequate Arts Court building on Daly Avenue, had been lobbying the NCC to get its collection into the pavilion, but, unbeknownst to anyone, the Guv'nor made a request for the space as far back as April 2, so the fix has been in for some time. Kinda explains why the Guv'nor never responded to the OAG's request for support. From the Citizen:

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean wants to take over the former Canada and the World Pavilion at 50 Sussex Dr., a $5.7-million building beside the historic Rideau Falls with stunning views of the Ottawa River. The Citizen's story and editorial this week on the fate of the site -- how the Ottawa Art Gallery wants the building but fears a deal has been struck to put Rideau Hall staff there -- prompted a letter from Rideau Hall yesterday, confirming that the Governor General's office wants the space.

Sheila-Marie Cook, secretary to the Governor General, says the pavilion -- with its high visibility, prestige and abundant exhibition space -- would be an ideal place for the Governor General's Chancellery of Honours. The building became vacant in 2005 when the National Capital Commission, which had used it as a small museum showcasing Canadian accomplishments, closed it to save money.

But John Baird, the senior political cabinet minister for the capital region, yesterday said he thinks it's a terrible idea.

"A prime piece of property like that, it just seems silly. I don't support it. It's on the ceremonial route. Putting the Governor General's staff there is ridiculous," said Mr. Baird, in a meeting with the Citizen's editorial board. "It shouldn't be used for that purpose. Surely to goodness there's a better use for that prime real estate."

Mr. Baird, the MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, said he's open to the idea of putting Ottawa Art Gallery works on display and therefore keeping it all public space, but that he doesn't have enough information about the proposal to endorse the idea.

If picked up by the Governor General, the space would accommodate about 35 staff members, including researchers, artists and the staff who process nominations for honours.

[Acting NCC CEO] Ms. Dube said yesterday that she received notice on April 2 that Rideau Hall wanted the property, but could not disclose to the gallery group, or the public, the nature of the proposal. She said the project was first raised in a letter from Ms. Jean to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who passed the matter to Public Works to handle. Ms. Dube said it was not her place to be announcing a project of the Governor General.

She added that the NCC has received a request from Public Works for a licence of occupation of the pavilion so that the Governor General's staff can begin using the space by July 1.

Journalist Sarah Jennings, who has supported the Ottawa Art Gallery in its push for the federal building, said it's important that this place be kept for public, cultural space, given that historic Sussex Drive has been swamped with high security offices and embassies in the last decade. She has hope that the gallery idea might still fly, if the public rallies behind it and the government backs away from spending money fitting up the building for the Chancellery of Honours.

"There's no Ottawa on Ottawa's Mile of History and this is the ideal solution," she said. "It's absolutely wrong to put this iconic site into office space for bureaucrats."

To support the Ottawa Art Gallery's campaign, sign their petition.

Citizen: World pavilion's future: art gallery or offices (expires 30 days) [3 May 2007]
Citizen: Leave room for the view (expires 30 days) [4 May 2007]
Citizen: Rideau Hall says it wants Sussex pavilion for offices (expires 30 days) [5 May 2007]
Ottawa Art Gallery: Petition to the NCC

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Keep Sussex pavilion public, group tells NCC

The New Edinburgh Community Alliance is adding its support to the campaign to have the Canada and the World Pavilion made into the new home of the Ottawa Art Gallery. From the Citizen:

Gemma Kerr, president of the alliance, says allowing another embassy or federal office building will make Sussex Drive even more of a street that's dominated by high-security buildings, shut off from public access. "It's goodbye to free public access," if either an embassy takes over the building, or a federal agency or department moves in, said Ms. Kerr in an interview. "I do not want to see our ceremonial way become just a line of embassies." Without public access, Sussex Drive will lose its historic function as a ceremonial route, she said.

[...]The NCC says it will preserve public access to Rideau Falls in whatever deal is struck and it will carefully consider proposals to renovate or add on to the building.

The community is highly skeptical that public access would be maintained, given what has happened over the last quarter century along Sussex.

The street, famously known for the prime minister's residence and Rideau Hall, residence of the Governor General, is part of Confederation Boulevard, dubbed Ottawa's "mile of history" by former NCC chairwoman Jean Pigott.

But the street has become the "mile of security" in recent years. The NCC gave the green light to build the United States Embassy after a proposal to build it on Mile Circle at Rockcliffe created a community uproar there in the 1980s. The NCC also allowed the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to build well-secured embassies on Sussex. The Aga Khan is taking over the former Canadian war museum on Sussex and is making it the Global Centre for Pluralism.

The federal government took over the former Ottawa city hall on Green Island.

Rideau Hall was closed to the public for a short period when former governor general Jeanne Sauve closed the gates in the name of security in the 1980s. After a community uproar in New Edinburgh, the huge property was reopened to the public.

"There's barely a property left that's not embassy. I'm not anti-embassy. I'm just trying to keep this mile of Canadian history," said Brian McGarry, the Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre. "I'm trying to find a spot for it. There's really not much left."

[...]Ms. Kerr isn't convinced the NCC, long criticized for its secretive operations, will give the Ottawa Art Gallery a fair hearing. She says the commission's deliberations on this matter are not taking place in the open.

"We're seeing same old, same old," said Ms. Kerr.

[...]Mr. McGarry said he'd like to see the NCC conduct a public discussion about possible uses of the pavilion.

Time to test the NCC's newly declared interest in "Openness and communication with the public" and "Increased representation of Canada and Canadians in the Capital."

Citizen: Keep Sussex pavilion public, group tells NCC [4 Mar 2007]
New Edinburgh Community Alliance: Fate of the Canada and the World Pavilion Imminent? [1 Mar 2007]
Ottawa Art Gallery: Petition to the NCC

Monday, February 26, 2007

Federal candidate declares support for Ottawa Art Gallery proposal

More support for the campaign to have the Canada and the World Pavilion made into the new home of the Ottawa Art Gallery, this time from the new Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre. From the Citizen:

Mr. McGarry, selected as the Conservative candidate in Ottawa Centre last Wednesday, said Monday Sussex Drive is supposed to be the national capital's "Mile of History," yet there have been an increasing number of embassies permitted to build on it. "No offence to our foreign neighbours, but they have quite a lot of property already. Could we not preserve some for ourselves?" he said yesterday, in an interview with the Citizen.

[...] Mr. McGarry - a prominent Ottawa businessman who served on Ottawa's public school board and on the city's former regional council - said the pavilion building is a perfect fit for the spectacular Canadian art in the Ottawa Art Gallery's Firestone Collection. The Firestone Collection was given to the Ontario government, and subsequently the City of Ottawa, by the late O.J. and Isobel Firestone, who travelled across Canada collecting art. But gallery supporters have been unhappy with the poor public display of the collection at Arts Court, an old building on Daly Avenue. They say it makes sense to have at least one presence from the City of Ottawa along the capital's Confederation Boulevard, sometimes called Ottawa's Mile of History.

Last week, Mayor Larry O'Brien publicly threw his support behind the idea of moving the gallery to 50 Sussex Dr.

Mr. McGarry said the art gallery would have to come up with money for the property, but he said some prominent Ottawa philanthropists would likely help in this cause. He is hoping to make a case for the gallery moving into 50 Sussex to Lawrence Cannon, the federal transport minister and MP for Pontiac, who has cabinet responsibility for the NCC and who will have to sign off on any long-term lease of the building.

Ottawa Art Gallery supporters who are eyeing the Sussex Drive property are worried that the exhibition space will slip through their fingers without any real public debate.

"We're all somewhat concerned about decisions being made behind closed doors," said Mr. McGarry. "I'd hope they'd give us a chance before it's decided without public input."

Citizen: McGarry sees Sussex Drive as future home of art gallery [26 Feb 2007]
Ottawa Art Gallery: Petition to the NCC

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Whither the Canada and the World Pavilion II

Ottawa mayor Larry O'Brien declared his support for a lobbying campaign to get the Ottawa Art Gallery into the NCC's vacant Canada and the World Pavilion at an Ottawa Art Gallery fundraising breakfast at Arts Court. From the Citizen:

Since the election and the collapse of the rail project, the gallery has set its sights on the Canada and the World Pavilion. Letters to that effect have been sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon (who is the minister responsible for the NCC) and other federal officials.

A public petition has also been started. The gallery believes public pressure on federal politicians is the best way to ensure the NCC delivers the building.

The NCC maintains it must first determine whether the building is suitable for use within the "federal family" -- government departments, agencies and foreign embassies.

"I asked them," O'Brien said, "why they couldn't get around that."

An answer was apparently not forthcoming. In fact, the NCC seems to be offering no encouragement to the Ottawa Art Gallery. Hence the decision to lobby politicians.

The Ottawa Art Gallery's petition is online at their website.

Citizen: Mayor takes up cause with new arts-friendly attitude [22 Feb 2007]
Ottawa Art Gallery: Petition to the NCC

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Whither the Canada and the World Pavilion

The NCC's fabulous Sussex tombstone of waste, the Canada and the World Pavilion, still needs a tenant. Predictably, the NCC favors an embassy. From the Citizen:

NCC spokesman Mario Tremblay said yesterday that the commission has been discussing "informal proposals" with some embassies about the building. He said no formal proposal has been received.

The pavilion, just down the street from the prime minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive and the Governor General's residence at Rideau Hall, was built at a cost of $5.7 million to federal taxpayers. It was operated as a mini-museum, celebrating the accomplishments of Canadians, but closed in 2005 due to budget cuts at the NCC. It features spectacular views of the Ottawa River and is part of the capital's historic Confederation Boulevard, a ceremonial route that includes Sussex Drive and Wellington Street.

Mr. Tremblay said the commission is trying to find the right match for the property within the "federal family." That includes federal departments, Crown agencies, non-governmental organizations and foreign embassies -- organizations that all serve a national interest for Canada.

The NCC has long been obsessed with encouraging such architectural mediocrities as the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on Confederation Boulevard, claiming that doing so in some way communicates Canada to Canadians. Or something. In any case, some locals are suggesting to instead use the pavilion to house the Ottawa Art Gallery and the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art, given to Ottawa by Jack and Isobel Firestone in the 1970s. The 1,600-piece collection - valued at more than $11 million - includes works by prominent Canadian artists such as A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson, Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt. The art is currently housed in Arts Court on Daly Avenue.

Citizen: NCC wants embassy to take over pavilion [1 Feb 2007]

Friday, November 22, 2002

Gatineau Park Master Plan Review meeting

Apparently, the NCC is reviewing its Gatineau Park Master Plan. The "public consultation" will take place from 5 pm to 9 pm on two nights: mostly in English, on Tuesday November 26, 2002 at the National Gallery of Canada; and mostly in French, on Wednesday November 27, 2002 at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. There will be a Q and A session, so be sure to get up there and ask 'em about all the new roads they're planning, like the McConnell-Laramee freeway and Mackenzie King Estate access road.

Citizen: Traffic jam in the park [16 Oct 2002]

Saturday, February 16, 2002

NCC to hold information sessions on Ottawa River plans

The sessions, titled "Towards a common vision for the sustainable development of the urban section of the Ottawa River" (wordy, yet safely devoid of content), are to be held Wednesday, February 27, 2002 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Canada (Group entrance, Lecture Hall).

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

We prefer "skeptic"

As Lawrence Martin would have it, only "philistines" could oppose the NCC's grandiose plans for the capital:

Considering the magnitude of the project, it has received surprisingly scant attention. The Chretien government is serious about moving ahead with it. France has its Arc de Triomphe and its Eiffel Tower. Washington has its Lincoln and Jefferson and Washington memorials, Moscow has its Kremlin, London its host of treasures -- and then there is this nation's capital.

In Ottawa, a wide range of Philistines are irked that the government would wish to do something to make the capital more majestic and magnificent. They complain that the makeover plan is a Jean Chretien vanity project. They reflect a small-mindedness that is consistent with their abiding colonial psyche.

On the planned new piazza or modest version of a Champs-Elysees, as some prefer to call it, there is no monument to Chretien to be installed. There is no plan to name the boulevard after him, nor -- though I am sure he is as conscious about his legacy as other leaders -- does he wish it to be his name. The Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery of Canada were projects of the Trudeau government, yet these sites have no name identification with that prime minister.

All well and good. But even the most wide-eyed optimist cannot deny the NCC's history of incompetence and failure, a sure justification for at least some measure of skepticism.

Citizen: Relax Philistines, Let splendour rule [15 May 2001]
Citizen letter: Philistine heal thyself [22 May 2001]
Citizen letter: Horizontal [22 May 2001]

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Metcalfe Lite plans fizzle

According to the Citizen, plans to demolish buildings on Sparks are being pushed back:

The federal government appears to have put off -- for at least five years -- thought of demolishing buildings and moving others to create a large urban square immediately south of Parliament Hill.

The government recently tipped its hand by offering new five- year leases to existing or prospective retail tenants on the north side of Sparks Street, the block where several buildings had been threatened with demolition.

The government never set a target date for demolition of three buildings on the north side of Sparks Street to create open space. But retailers there have lived with uncertainty for years.

The uncertainty intensified in March when the National Capital Commission confirmed what had long been suspected: It said it was considering creating a large square on the west side of Metcalfe Street, just south of the Hill.

That plan, dubbed Metcalfe Lite by its critics, would involve the demolition of three buildings on the north side of Sparks, and the moving of two heritage buildings that now stand at the north-west corner of Metcalfe and Sparks.

The two heritage buildings, which contain Canada's Four Corners gift shop and the NCC's information centre, would be moved half a block west. There, they would be re-erected next to the former U.S. embassy on Wellington Street -- which is to become a national portrait gallery.

Canada's Four Corners already has a 10-year lease, valid until 2006, that the store's operator, Jack Cook, said he believes is unbreakable.

Next door on the north side of Sparks Street, the Plaza Cafe recently obtained a five-year lease extension, valid until the end of 2004.

E.R. Fisher men's wear store, another retailer on the threatened section of Spark Street, is expected to sign a five-year lease extension shortly.

Louise Proulx, who speaks for Public Works, confirmed yesterday that the department is offering five-year leases on the north side of Sparks, "but not beyond five years."

The NCC claims it is focussing its efforts on developing the south side of the street. They are currently in the process of buying up properties at inflated prices.

Citizen: Plans for large square on Metcalfe St. fizzle [12 Jul 2000]