NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Search string: "sparks"

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

NCC begins work on lighting plan

The NCC is once again about to "transform the Capital" with a $170 000 lighting study. From the Citizen:

The NCC awarded a $168,765 contract to an international consortium of experts June 30. The members of the consortium are now in the capital to start sketching out initial concepts for a lighting master plan.

The team includes Ottawa building services firm MMM Group, Quebec City-based Lumipraxis, which has worked on the illumination of the Quebec capital, and Alain Guilhot, an internationally renowned lighting designer from Lyon, France.

"He has lit Quebec City, Lyon, Constantinople, Beijing and Madrid," Kristmanson said. "At one point, he lit the Eiffel Tower. He's a great expert in this field, so we'll be listening to him."

Over the next two-and-a-half days, team members and the NCC will begin to map out the project, lay out the NCC's expectations and learn from the consultants' experience illuminating other capitals, Kristmanson said.

"We've got to familiarize this team with our capital and our needs. And we’ve got to understand from them what potential they see and what they can bring that we may not have thought of."

While here, the team will make site visits to five viewpoints on both sides of the Ottawa River. The areas include the Rideau Canal, Wellington and Sparks streets, the ByWard Market, Dow's Lake and major bridges.

The group will first visit the areas in daylight, then return at night "to see it in its nocturnal state," Kristmanson said. "This will start developing the thinking."

Though it will take a decade to fully implement the lighting plan, the NCC plans to share initial concepts with the public this fall.

"What I would expect to see is some further developed maps and viewlines and more detail on under-lit assets, and maybe some that are over-lit," Kristmanson said. There should also be suggestions on how the illumination balance and hierarchy would work.

"We want the capital to be very distinctive at night, and we want to bring out the best in our architecture," Kristmanson said. The NCC also expects the plan to reduce electricity use, perhaps quite substantially, and curb light pollution.

Ah yes, those troublesome 'over-lit' buildings and, even worse, the ones that shouldn't be lit at all. Forget about bringing out the best in our architecture, how to hide the more common worst in our architecture, like Place du Portage? For the next 170 grand in their consultation budget, maybe the NCC should hire David Copperfield to advise them on how to make that sucker disappear altogether.

Citizen: NCC begins work on lighting plan that will 'transform' capital at night [23 July 2015]

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mayors not ready to give up on NCC yet

The Ottawa and Gatineau mayors have joined forces to criticize the NCC and demand a seat at the table. The Citizen's David Reevely reports:

The National Capital Commission doesn't know enough about local affairs and is getting in the way of progress, the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau charged Wednesday, and putting them on its board is their solution.

After their first formal meeting since Gatineau's Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin was elected last fall, he and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson emerged with a list of grievances, from "relentless obstruction in the City of Ottawa's efforts to create a world-class transit system for the National Capital Region" to the "unilateral decision to close Rue Gamelin" in Gatineau. They signed it and sent it to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, demanding reforms that should start with adding an elected official from each city council to the 15-member NCC board.

[...]The commission's refusal to accept Ottawa's plans for running a light-rail line along the Ottawa River near Highland Park clearly angered Watson the most. The board's constant demands for the city to spend more on the project, which is already estimated to cost $980 million, are just unreasonable, he said, calling them "micromanagement and second-guessing." He scorned the commission's demands in the first stage of the rail line, now under construction - which went as far as approving the shrubs the city intends to plant around its new stations.

Watson also complained about the state of Sparks Street, where the NCC is a major landlord and famously indifferent to the needs of small businesses. Few restaurateurs want to invest in outfitting kitchens if they can only get the short-term leases the NCC insists on, for instance.

[...]The fact the NCC board had an open meeting last week, where member Robert Tennant got involved in the debate on the city's rail plans, helped expose that Tennant's private urban-planning firm also works for a client whose development plans are directly implicated in the rail project, Watson pointed out. More openness and accountability is always a good thing, he argued.

The mayor said he's not worried that an attack on the commission will make getting its co-operation on things like the rail project more difficult.

"Are you suggesting there's going to be retributions because we dared to offer a way to open up and make the NCC more accountable?" he shot back in response to a reporter's question. "I think that would backfire on the federal government, if they're going to all of a sudden start saying, 'These mayors are asking too much and we're going to take out on them, charging more for parking in Gatineau Park and we're going to make it more difficult for light rail.' I hope they don't go down that path because I don't think the public would be too pleased and impressed with that.'

Chairman Mills, however, fired right back, sticking to the tiresomely familiar 'we're doing it for all of Canada' line. From the CBC:

The chair and interim CEO of the National Capital Commission brushed off suggestions the organization meddles in local affairs and said they do not support the idea of having municipal representation on the commission's board.

[...]He said as the caretaker of the 10 per cent of land in the region owned by the federal government, the NCC should have that authority. While Mills said the current negotiations with the city are progressing well, in the past he said they have had to fight to keep rail lines from going up along the Ottawa River.

"The NCC needs to retain the authority to stop bad ideas for federal land like a railroad on the riverfront," he said.

Ah yes, the railway on the riverfront. Well, he's got a point - it could impede access to the freeway.

Citizen: Ottawa, Gatineau mayors demand seats on NCC board [29 January 2014]
CBC: Jim Watson, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin call on PM to change NCC [29 January 2014]
Mayors' Joint Letter [29 January 2014]
CBC: NCC rebuffs call from mayors for more local voice [30 January 2014]
OBJ: Mayor Watson demands more local representation on the NCC board [30 January 2014]
Statement from NCC Chair Russell Mills [30 January 2014]
Sun: City of Ottawa is being hijacked by NCC without regard to cost or consequences [31 January 2014]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bookstore location remains vacant

Last year, Nicholas Hoare Books closed after the NCC raised its rent. The store remains vacant. David Reevely reports in the Citizen:

Nine months after Nicholas Hoare's Sussex Drive bookstore closed because the National Capital Commission wanted to nearly double its rent, the storefront remains empty.

"The NCC is currently in negotiations with interested parties," said spokesman Cédric Pelletier. "The location itself is popular."

At the same time, he said, the commission is "not in a position to provide a timeline" for when it might be rented. The NCC intends to find a tenant who'll pay market rent, though Pelletier wouldn't specify what that might be.

A flyer from Colliers, the commercial real-estate company, invites tenants to rent the space at 419 Sussex Dr. for about $6,500 a month to start, just more than Nicholas Hoare was paying as it ended its tenancy.

"It was a little more than $6,000, all-in," said Hoare last week from his warehouse in Montreal. "They wanted to raise it 72 per cent immediately and have it rise to a 93-per-cent increase by the end of five years. ... You should never take a lease that goes up that much."

The NCC has never confirmed the terms it was offering except to say that it made a business decision to charge market rent, but a 72-per-cent increase to a $6,000 monthly rent would have had the store paying $10,320 a month by now. Pelletier again declined last week to confirm or deny Hoare's numbers.

[...]Hoare is still angry about the way his relationship with the NCC broke down. He and the commission were good for each other, he said, with the bookstore providing an anchor for a stretch of Sussex that doesn't have much retail activity. "They were extremely keen to have us," he said. "They sought us out, not the other way around." The rent hike left him feeling "betrayed," he said.

Another frustration was the commission's insistence on a lease of just a few years: the custom shelves and lights and other accoutrements the store had, so essential to its boutique atmosphere, were expensive and Hoare wanted a long lease to amortize the cost. He has a 20-year lease for his store in Toronto, he said, but the NCC wouldn't ordinarily agree to more than three years at a time in Ottawa.

[UPDATE] Two days later, the Citizen has followed up with an editorial:

But Wellington Street is not the only part of the city in which federally owned buildings are shuttered. There is Sparks Street, which is perennially underutilized. And there is Sussex Drive, where the location that used to be home to Nicholas Hoare Books remains empty, as the Citizen's David Reevely reported, nine months after the popular shop closed and the owner complained that the National Capital Commission was raising rents out of reach.

The NCC says it is negotiating with interested parties to lease 419 Sussex Dr. According to a real estate listing, the price is $6,500 a month, just over what Hoare was paying when, he says, the NCC told him it was raising rent so that it would be up by 93 per cent after five years. It would have been paying more than $10,000 a month by now. Another frustration for the bookseller was the NCC's refusal to sign a long-term lease.

The NCC, for its part, says it is looking for the market rate to lease the buildings. Which is a good thing if the NCC is going to be a landlord. But why should it be a landlord on Sussex Drive or Sparks Street at all? Is there significant benefit, financial or otherwise, being derived for either the City of Ottawa or the Capital of Canada? Or for the NCC?

Last word to Citizen letter-writer Michael J. DiCola:

Regarding the article about the National Capital Commission's indoor vacant lot where one of the city's best bookstores used to stand, the more I read about the screwing over - there are no other words for it - administered to this business by the NCC, the angrier I get.

[...]The NCC's incredible short-sightedness in making it untenable for a longtime visitor magnet to continue operating in a very popular part of the city is a perfect bureaucratic example of a perfectly bureaucratic organization's reaping what it sowed. Anything for a buck. Well don't spend it all in one place, NCC.

Citizen: Nine months later, former Nicholas Hoare location on Sussex still vacant [26 January 2013]
Citizen: Problem landlord [28 January 2013]
Citizen: NCC's short-sightedness [29 January 2013]

Friday, July 6, 2012

NCC CEO Lemay moves on

NCC CEO Marie Lemay is moving further up the bureaucratic greasy pole in Ottawa. From the Citizen:

Lemay will step down next month as the NCC's chief executive to become Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, one of a spate of senior public service appointments made Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Lemay told NCC employees that she is leaving the commission after 4 1/2 years "with mixed feelings," but she is secure in her own mind that her mission to drag the much maligned agency into a new era of accountability, openness and relevance is done. She told the Citizen that what's considered her defining project - a new plan to succeed Jacques Gréber's 1950 capital blueprint - is in good hands and would be completed as planned.

"The challenge I had when I came in was to champion openness and transparency, and if I look at the organization today and what it was, I am very proud of what we have done. I am leaving an organization that has a total different way of thinking ... a whole cultural shift in how we do business," Lemay said in an interview.

"We've become a much more nimble and flexible organization, we've become open and transparent and the way we do things is part of who we are. I am quite confident that we are not going back, no matter who steps (into) that role."

[...]Lemay championed many things, but said she is proudest of the BIXI bike-sharing program, of buying more land in Gatineau Park to prevent development, and of the ambitious new plan for the capital's next 50 years.

While many praised Lemay's infectious enthusiasm, critics said she lacked the vision to do the big things that really define great capitals. Waterfront development, redevelopment of Sparks Street and animation of Ottawa's shorelines were not far advanced under her leadership. University of Ottawa professor Gilles Paquet, who chaired the review panel that led to her appointment, once said that Lemay's NCC became too "timid" to do much good.

Lemay dismissed that criticism Friday, saying like most people, she wanted things to happen fast. But the reality is that the NCC can't just wave a magic wand and things would happen, she said. It operates in a complex world of different players and conflicting interests.

"There are some things that you'd like to happen faster. There are so many good ideas and projects and you want to see these happen, but you have to be realistic because there are different players," she said.

"You have to learn to be a little patient."

Lemay can be certainly credited for not overstaying her welcome, unlike the late unlamented imperial chairmanship of Marcel Beaudry.

Citizen: Lemay leaving NCC to take senior Public Service appointment [6 July 2012]
Citizen: Ottawa's loss [6 July 2012]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Talkin' 'bout 2067

In the Citizen, Kelly Egan compares the NCC's vision for 2067 to a local plan for a tourist streetcar:

On Feb. 21, the NCC is having a big public meeting to talk about Ottawa in 2067.

Horizon 2067, it is called. It is not subtitled Things to Do in Ottawa Long After You're Dead, only because I'm not in charge of promotion.

[...]But it is a moment to ask the following question: Should the National Capital Commission, and every other government or public authority, not be focusing on 2017, the country's 150th birthday, instead of day-dreaming about the capital in - let's just check the math - yes, indeed, 55 years?

Instead, we have two "workshops" scheduled to talk about Ottawa in the Starship Year 2067, but perhaps we're belabouring the point.

The Streetcar Committee has an intriguing idea. It would like to run a new, but old-fashioned looking streetcar down a short portion of downtown, with possible expansion into a loop across the Ottawa River.

[...]You can't help but admire their pluck. Lots of volunteer groups start with a burst of energy, run into bureaucratic molasses, get lost in the funding desert, and lose momentum. But they have stuck with it.

[...]It it not meant to be a form of rapid transit, or a replacement for planned light-rail service. Because of all the pedestrian traffic on Sparks, the car would slowly cling-clang along, stopping at intersections, making frequent stops and, on the whole, giving an impression of steady, big-city movement, sorely needed on the sad mall.

[...]In light of the NCC's insistence on a 50-year vision quest, here is an idea we can actually talk about - even do by 2017 - without having to take on the burden of a mega-project or go begging, cap-in-hand, to the John Bairds of the world.

To that end, Eltaher said a public-private partnership is on the table, meaning the taxpayer would not assume all the risk. He reports that the NCC is keen on the project while the city, which owns Sparks, has an interest that has ebbed and flowed over the years.

This is not to say this is perfect. Maybe it isn't feasible. But at least we have a concrete idea to start the conversation.

The NCC, meanwhile, is having two public "workshops" on what the capital should look like on our 200th birthday. The whole exercise is costing in excess of $600,000 and has involved a road show to several Canadian cities.

That, people, is not a idea. It is that most horrible Ottawa creation: meaningless busy work.

Citizen: Changing our capital should start now, not 2067 [17 February 2012]

Friday, January 6, 2012

Highway 5 protest begins

The highway 5 extension has spawned a protest. From the Citizen:

A massive 300-year-old white pine close to Wakefield was the focus of a demonstration Thursday to protest the destruction of trees to make way for the planned Highway 5 extension.

"We're trying to attract attention to the ecological devastation that will happen here in the next two to three weeks," said Jean-Paul Murray, secretary of the Gatineau Park Protection Committee.

"We're standing right where the highway will pass. We want to attract attention to the destruction of these last giants of the forest," he said.

[…]The National Capital Commission has said the work won't have a significant effect on the park since it lies just outside the park boundary. It points to a federal environmental assessment that concluded: "The authorities are of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

Citizen: Highway plan sparks protest [6 January 2012]
OpenFile: "Occupy Gatineau Park" protest begins over Highway 5 extension [5 January 2012]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whither Ottawa

The Citizen's long-suffering Mohammed Adam has penned another of their occasional sprawling 'whither Ottawa' series. This one prompted ostensibly by another of the NCC's 50 year plans. And while everyone is relieved that the NCC has got plans to ensure sufficient parking for the flying cars driven by the hordes of tourists forecasted to visit Ottawa by 2067 (we made that up - ed.), in the here and now, the NCC comes in for a fair amount of criticism from just about everyone. As one might expect. But the NCC takes exception (we've cherry-picked the following, but there's lots more, by all means read the entire series, linked below):

Patrick Kelly, president of the Ottawa Convention Centre, says that Ottawa is probably the least known of the G8 capitals, and in many places around the world, the name draws a yawn. Architect and urban planner Barry Padolsky agrees, saying that if he were to write a book about Ottawa, it would be a lament for missed opportunities on everything from light rail to waterfront development and LeBreton Flats.

A lot has been said about LeBreton, the decades-old mess on King Edward Avenue and Rideau Street, and the off-again, on-again light-rail project. But even something as simple as rebuilding Wellington Street appears to be beyond us. Wellington has the War Memorial, Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court, Bank of Canada and the National Library and Archives. It defines the very essence of our nation, and anywhere else it would be a grand and stately boulevard. In Ottawa, however, Wellington is a drab bus route - and no one seems to care.

For the most part, critics blame the National Capital Commission. Nothing gets built on federal land without the NCC's design approval and critics say if the agency did its job properly, the city would be a much better place.

NCC officials, however, dismiss any suggestion that they've presided over bland planning and design in the capital. They point to the "urban dynamism" the agency has created with many of its revitalization projects from LeBreton Flats to Sparks Street, the ByWard Market and Confederation Boulevard.

"People say that when it comes to planning and design decisions, the NCC is bland, not bold - does not think outside the box. We disagree," says chief planner Pierre Dubé.

He says that when the NCC first proposed Confederation Boulevard, critics slammed it as a "silly idea," but today, standing at the intersection of St. Patrick and Sussex, and looking toward the Astrolabe, the Library of Parliament, the Peacekeeping monument and the Chateau Laurier, "the amazing piece of streetscape and urban design that now graces our capital" is unmistakable.

"We tend to dream big, but we are practical people, aware of the limitations of available resources," says Dubé.

So the NCC stands behind the drab, sterile bus route that is Confederation Boulevard as its most notable success.

Most experts understand that money constrains the Commission, but they also say that there is a fundamental lack of boldness and risk-taking in planning that has fostered bland design.

The LeBreton Flats development was a defining moment for the NCC, a unique opportunity to do something memorable, the critics say. Instead, as former governor general Adrienne Clarkson so forcefully noted, LeBreton became a metaphor for NCC underachievement.

Waterfront development is another issue of contention. The Rideau and Ottawa Rivers and the Rideau Canal, along with the Gatineau River, offer a waterfront that other cities will die for.

But it is all of little consequence to residents because most of it is inaccessible. The NCC has plans galore for every part of the shoreline from Bate to Chaudiere and Victoria islands, with artistic renditions of spectacular waterfront parks, but nothing ever gets done. Experts agree there might not be money to develop say, waterfront villages and parks along the shoreline, but with a little bit ingenuity and imagination, a lot could be done to open up much of it and the Rideau Canal for people to enjoy.

Ah yes, the waterfront - such potential:

[Lemay] says the NCC is as eager as everyone else to develop the Ottawa River shoreline but the principal problem is that the federal government doesn't own it all. The missing link is the Domtar lands on the Gatineau side, which the private owner has refused to sell. If those lands were in government hands, the shoreline could be turned into "an absolute gem" in the heart of the capital.

"Our greatest hope is, and has been for many decades, that the islands around the Chaudière Falls and the Hull shore, would come into public ownership," adds Dubé, the chief planner.

"Then the capital could start to envision the prospects of creating our own unique waterfront destination …"

Shucks, if they just had control of that last little two per cent of the waterfront - out of endless kilometres of waterfront they now control absolutely - why, then, watch out.

The series also features architecture critic Rhys Phillips, who had this to say about the NCC:

Frankly, the NCC is beyond repair. Its celebration component should be moved in Canadian Heritage and the rest replaced with a small office headed by a recognized designer. This new group should then have the say over all new government buildings and work with the city.

We'll give the last word to Kate Heartfield, who expresses skepticism at the very idea that Ottawa needs grand visions to succeed:

The insistence that Ottawa must be a proper, pretty G8 capital might actually be the thing that's holding us back. Imagine what LeBreton Flats might be today, if the National Capital Commission hadn't razed it a half-century ago. It might be a gradually gentrifying old working-class neighbourhood in the lee of Parliament Hill, with restaurants and studios and mechanics and theatres; instead, it's a field with a museum on it. Imagine an Ottawa River that had shops and restaurants along it, not a freeway where commuters whiz by and occasionally admire the scenery. Imagine if the downtown train station still had trains arriving at it.

Every time someone comes up with a vision statement or grand plan, Ottawa gets a little more bland. There are smart, creative people here. Ottawa might evolve in all kinds of unpredictable and exciting directions, if nobody gets in its way.

C'mon Kate - if you don't have a vision for the flying cars, where they gonna park?

Citizen: Building a better Ottawa [13 August 2011]
Citizen: It ain't easy being a developer [14 August 2011]
Citizen: Live Chat: Building a better Ottawa [15 August 2011]
Citizen: Wanted: Private money for public dreams [15 August 2011]
Citizen: In the shadow of the Hill [15 August 2011]
Citizen: Drafting a new blueprint [17 August 2011]
Citizen: Mayor ready to 'dream big' [18 August 2011]
Citizen: The trouble with Ottawa is Ottawans [18 August 2011]
Citizen: The real Ottawa is in the shadows of the monuments [23 August 2011]
Citizen: Great notions [26 August 2011]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Canlands Sparks St project launched

Last heard from about two years ago, the NCC's Canlands A project on Sparks Street was "won" by Ashcroft, and now the development has been announced. Surprise surprise, it's a luxury condominium, not unlike the one that went up at the Daly site, i.e., another condo by another ordinary Ottawa builder. Why is the NCC necessary to this process?

Citizen: Luxe living by the Hill [20 Mar 2010]
Centretown News: Sparks St. site of $5M condo [26 Mar 2010]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

NCC panel to blame for bad designs

Architectural critic Rhys Phillips and architect Ron Keenberg, both quoted in yesterday's article on the NCC-Claridge beige box on the Flats, offer some pretty scathing criticism of NCC's architectural design panel in the Citizen:

The architects on the National Capital Commission's design panel should resign because they are responsible for the commission's failure to produce great buildings in the capital, a prominent Ottawa architect says.

Ron Keenberg, who has won numerous Governor General's awards, says the rather mundane NCC buildings in the city, including the ongoing LeBreton Flats project, show that the architects on the design committee are not championing great architecture. He says it is vital to make radical changes now before the second phase of the LeBreton development -- which could begin in three years.

"The architects on the NCC design review committee should all resign because I believe that it is their responsibility to make sure that major projects in Ottawa, in the national capital region, especially on lands like LeBreton Flats, be at a world-class level," Mr. Keenberg said. "But they do not do that. They accept anything and everything, or they say to the developer, 'Make this little wee modification here or there, and all will be fine.' The only way to influence the second phase is to restructure the NCC's review committee and get people on it who are prepared to demand the best architectural excellence available in Canada."

[...]Ottawa architectural critic Rhys Phillips agrees that the NCC has a poor record in producing high-quality architecture, pointing out that on some of the most prominent and desirable lands in city, it has produced buildings that are just adequate, when the sites cried for something grand or spectacular.

"The NCC is engaged in a process of city building that is a disaster. It is one debacle after another," Mr. Phillips said, pointing to LeBreton as the latest example.

While the architects on the design committee remain culpable, he says, they are often toothless, because the process gives them little room to champion quality.

"It is like they've given you three paintings to pick from and all of them come out of the starving artists' school, and you desperately try and pick the one that comes closest to not looking like it is a piece of slop," he said. "The only thing you can really hold them accountable for is not resigning and basically exposing the fraud that is the process that's going on."

The NCC's process, of course, has not changed, as the recent announcement of the development on Sparks Street clearly illustrates.

Citizen: NCC panel to blame for bad designs [5 August 2008]

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sparks Street development announced again

"The proposed development between Sparks and Queen streets may not win any awards for creative or unpredictable design..." An intro like that can herald only one thing - a new building from those master builders at the NCC. And so it is, as the NCC announced that a developer had finally been found for its 'Canlands A' project on Sparks Street between Metcalfe and O'Connor. When last heard from two years ago, the winning only bidder Morguard had walked away from the project, citing only vague "business" reasons. From the Citizen:

The NCC this week approved a two-building complex at its "Canlands A" property, which is between Sparks and Queen streets, just west of Metcalfe Street and within easy walking distance of Parliament Hill. Today, the Sparks Street side of the property is two boarded-up buildings and the Queen Street side is a parking lot.

The commission, after many years of false starts, has chosen David Choo's Ashcroft Urban Developments as the developer for the property, with a design from Ottawa architect Roderick Lahey. Under the deal, the developer will have use of the land for 66 years, beginning Dec. 1 of this year, paying $166,500 each year. The two parties can renew the lease when it comes due.

Ashcroft won the project after a national request for proposals. The NCC has owned the land since the 1970s.

One is invariably reminded of the NCC's triumphs with the Daly building and on LeBreton Flats as yet another "national" request for proposals nets a single bid from another boring Ottawa developer. But no question that Ashcroft is eminently qualified to build the beige buildings the NCC demands.

Citizen: NCC to add sizzle to Sparks Street [3 July 2008]
Citizen: Sparking life in Sparks Street [4 July 2008]
Citizen: Sound Off about the project [2 July 2008]
OBJ: Sparking a desired change [9 July 2008]
NCC Watch: Canlands A archive

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]

Friday, December 28, 2007

Lord Durham's revenge

The ghost of Lord Durham continues to haunt the NCC. The Citizen acquired more than 40 written complaints to the NCC (via and Access to Information request) criticizing the decision to remove Lord Durham's portrait from a history exhibit about Ottawa's selection as the capital:

According to the correspondence received by the NCC, copies of which were obtained by the Citizen through the Access to Information Act, dozens of complainants saw the NCC's decision to take down the portrait as "cowardly" and "utter nonsense." Several writers described the Lord Durham portrait issue as anti-democratic, going so far as to compare the NCC to a dictatorship.

"This action that the Crown Corporation has taken smacks of something that would be done in a country under the rule of a dictator, not in a democracy," wrote one complainant.

"It is the NCC that should be apologizing to the Canadian public for letting us down in providing a showcase for the events, people and debates that have shaped our country," wrote another. "Your steps are more appropriate to Soviet-era revisionism than the flourishing democracy that you purport to represent."

The NCC took down Lord Durham's portrait on Nov. 5 after a media report pointed out that francophones might take offense to his inclusion in the outdoor exhibit on Sparks Street that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the selection as Ottawa as the capital of Canada. He was the author of the Durham Report, a controversial document written in 1839 that recommended the assimilation of French Canadians into English society on the basis they had no significant history or culture.

When the portrait was pulled, NCC chief executive officer Micheline Dubé said "the recommendations put forth by Lord Durham at that time are considered inappropriate for many and certainly controversial."

One complainant wrote directly to Ms. Dubé, calling for her to take responsibility on behalf of her organization: "I think that you owe all Canadians an apology for acting as a revisionist, the latter a trait of countries in which democracy is not likely to exist."

NCC chairman Russell Mills, a former editor-in-chief of the Citizen, also took his licks: "With respect to you and Lord Durham, should one not be astonished that someone who had gone to the wall for press freedom, should now be presiding over the business of censoring history?"

Others were more direct: "Get a spine! This is once again another example of the whitewashing of Canadian history to please the francophone lobby."

The Durham brouhaha was an unlikely source of negative press for the NCC throughout November.

Citizen: Writers see red over Durham decision [28 Dec 2007]
CBC: NCC takes down controversial poster [12 Nov 2007]
Citizen: Signs of humiliation [12 Nov 2007]
Citizen: Erasing history [9 Nov 2007]

Friday, January 5, 2007

The good, the bad, and the NCC

Citizen City editorial page editor Ken Gray notes a few minor problems with the mandate review panel report recommendations:

Giving more power to an organization that has botched its planning role so badly is like expecting your teenager, who just totalled the family Toyota, to drive better by giving the youngster a Porsche.

For example, the NCC would have a "new focus" on heritage, according to the report. Odd that recommendation, given that the NCC and its forerunners put the word flats in LeBreton Flats when it demolished that neighbourhood and left it empty for half a century. And then there were its plans to move or dismantle buildings of historical significance on Sparks Street.

The panel, chaired by Gilles Paquet, would see a NCC that would put "new focus on the core of the capital," a core it almost destroyed with its plans to remove a large number of vibrant businesses and institutions for an ill-considered plan to widen Metcalfe Street.

As well, the report recommends "a renewed emphasis on the planning function." Over the past few decades, the NCC has not planned well. Now, if the panel has its way, we would see more of this.

In a move that could result in inefficient area job and economic growth, the report suggests giving the NCC the power to co-ordinate the 75/25-per-cent split in the allocation of federal government development between Ottawa and Gatineau. Imagine waiting at LeBreton Flats-development speed for approval of a new home, for say, the RCMP. And furthermore, why should federal investment be confined to a cross-border quota? Perhaps it would be better for the feds to simply build where it makes the best economic and planning sense.

And this proposed mandate is far beyond the capability of the NCC when you look back at its slow planning and approval processes. The NCC could paralyse federal government growth in the area.

The panel perpetuates the myth that the rest of the country cares about the activities of the NCC. "Both the national and local communities have to be kept informed of how the national capital coordinating agency is carrying out its tasks," the report says. "The capital city has to speak to the country," the report says in another nose-stretcher. In fact, the rest of the country doesn't spend much time thinking about the capital, and few Canadians outside the Ottawa area have even heard of the NCC.

Realistically, the Crown corporation is another form of area government and thus needs to address regional issues effectively. If it does that, the NCC, in conjunction with the only Canadians preoccupied with health of the capital -- the residents of the region itself -- will help build a city that will attract Canadian visitors.

The panel suggests the NCC play a bigger role in regional transportation, but the Crown corporation has consistently failed in that function. The third lane built on the NCC's Champlain Bridge pours traffic into residential areas; the NCC has so far failed to develop a plan for interprovincial bridges; and the NCC was so slow off the mark that the City of Ottawa had to purchase the Prince of Wales railroad bridge across the Ottawa River to preserve it for transit.

Citizen: The good, the bad, and the NCC [5 Jan 2007]

Friday, August 11, 2006

Don't expect any big changes at NCC

Citizen columnist Kelly Egan takes a look at the NCC Mandate Review, and has understandably low expectations:

In April, Lawrence Cannon, the federal minister responsible, announced a review of the NCC's mandate. Here was point one, verbatim:

"Is the National Capital Commission still important? Is it even necessary?"

By early August, a miraculous conversion occurred. When Mr. Cannon announced the makeup of the review panel, abolition was off the table. A new first point appeared, verbatim:

"Assess the various functions of the NCC."

The second task focused on "governance structures" and the third on funding and "cost-effectiveness."

Wow. Score one for the commish.

[...]The review panel chairman, University of Ottawa's Gilles Paquet, has already expressed the view that the NCC isn't funded properly. So in four months, the entire framing of the question has changed, from "do you need to exist?" to "how can we get you more money?"

Hardly a bold prediction but, at the end of the day, the NCC will survive, albeit with doo-dads attached.

[...]If we could sell 10 per cent of the greenspace, or 2,000 hectares, and use those funds to build a new science museum or a subway, or bring to life the Ottawa River islands, or rescue the Sparks Street Mall, would you make the deal?

This is the kind of big proposal, I think, that is worth thinking about in terms of building a great capital.

Instead, we have a farm being restored in Gatineau and talk of an equestrian park. We have the NCC fussing over pine cone pickers along the Rideau Canal, or fending off dog owners, or negotiating leases for hospital land.

How does it get so regularly side-tracked from its core function?

The NCC, if anything, suffers from a lack of grandeur in its vision, not an overabundance, as some would have you believe.

It has many pretty plans locked in brochures and, forever and a day, nothing seems to happen on the ground. Its biggest problem is not open-versus-closed board meetings, it's inertia.

Citizen: Don't expect any big changes at NCC [11 Aug 2006]

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Annual Interest Group meeting announced

The NCC has announced its annual interest group meeting will take place Wednesday, May 3, 2006, at 6:30 pm at the Christ Church Cathedral Hall, located at 420 Sparks Street, Ottawa. Interest groups must register and send a written brief to the NCC no later than March 27, 2006. The general public is also welcome to attend.

No need to arrive early, we understand there will be plenty of seats available.

NCC Release: Interest groups are invited to share their ideas [21 Mar 2006]

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

NCC still seeks partner for Sparks Street project

The NCC is still looking for a developer to build on its site at 106-116 Sparks Street (the 'Canlands A' site). This is the second time they've tried to get someone on board for this project; it was first announced back in 2004. Two developers submitted proposals in 2005 and both subsequently pulled out. This happens all the time with NCC projects - it's starting to look like another Daly building fiasco. The site includes the former Centre Theatre and a bank building; the buildings are currently vacant. The NCC purchased the properties along with several others in the same block during a spending spree back in 2001 at greatly inflated prices.

CBC: NCC seeks Sparks Street developer [23 Mar 2006]
Centretown News: Sparks in need of a residential development [7 April 2006]

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

E.R. Fisher abandons Sparks Street

E. R. Fisher, on Sparks Street for more than 100 years, has decided to move all its operations to its Westboro location. At the current location since 1942, they owned the building until the feds expropriated it in 1972. They own their location in Westboro. Fisher also cited "frustrations of dealing with three levels of government - federal, the NCC and the city."

OBJ: E. R. Fisher to close Sparks Street store [5 Jan 2006]
CBC: Landmark clothing store to close doors [4 Jan 2006]


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sparks Street project hits delays

Word about what a joy it is to work with the NCC must be getting around the development community, considering the tepid response to yet another NCC project. This time its their Sparks Street project:

The National Capital Commission's Canlands A project, which is proposed to be the biggest residential project on Sparks Street, is running behind schedule and has only one developer interested in it.

Morguard Corp. of Toronto is the only developer that submitted a design proposal for the project, which is a key part of the NCC's plan to enliven Sparks Street.

The project was to include about 100 apartments, street level shops, some office space and parking, with three floors facing Sparks Street and 14 floors facing Queen Street, according to the initial announcement. The NCC is offering a 66- year lease in exchange for the development of the site near Metcalfe.

[...]The NCC announced in March that Morguard and Claridge Homes of Ottawa were invited to submit design proposals for the project, after they were they only two companies responding to a national call for expressions of interest to develop the site. Claridge did not submit a design plan by the April 28 deadline.

Citizen: NCC's Sparks Street residential project hits delays [25 Oct 2005]

Saturday, July 9, 2005

NCC recognizes park visionary

Some closure on on the matter of Percy Sparks' forgotten role in the founding of Gatineau Park. From the Citizen:

In the 1950s, Roderick Percy Sparks used to gather his grandchildren at "Big Pine," an old-growth white pine tree in Gatineau Park, and have them join hands around the tree's massive trunk. Yesterday, Jean-Paul Murray stood against the same majestic old tree and closed his eyes in triumph.

Mr. Murray has fought for years to have the former Ottawa businessman's role in the founding of the 36,000-hectare Gatineau Park recognized. He spent years sifting through archives, and then argued in a 2003 Citizen guest column that the National Capital Commission had mistakenly ignored Mr. Sparks in its literature.

That historical oversight was corrected yesterday when NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry named the exhibit hall at the Gatineau Park visitor centre in Chelsea after Mr. Sparks, a well-known member of Ottawa's business community from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

The NCC had commissioned a study into the history of the park that concluded Mr. Sparks played a major role in its creation, though singling out one person as park founder was not possible.

Citizen: Gatineau Park visionary gets his due [9 Jul 2005]

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Two developers bid for Sparks Street project

Another successful NCC tender, as all of two companies have responded to a national call for proposals to develop the NCC's 'Canlands A' site on Sparks Street. The NCC concedes that it is surprised at the lack of interest in the site. Have they considered it might be a lack of interest in working with the NCC?

OBJ: Two developers bid for Sparks Street project [8 Mar 2005]

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Give credit to Gatineau park's founder

Gatineau Park historian Jean-Paul Murray writes in the Citizen that the NCC is still misrepresenting the history of the park:

And the just-released study into the park's origins conducted for the National Capital Commission by two Quebec university professors perpetuates the misrepresentation of that story.

[...]The NCC has misrepresented the park's story for 45 years. The professors wrap the issue in the thickest fog of sophistry and ignore the facts they present by concluding that "circumstances" and a "series of actions by various individuals" created the park, for which they say they can't "provide the date of founding and the name of the founder." If Sparks did more than anyone else to create the park, as they demonstrate, then why can't he be considered the founder? If money for purchasing the first parkland was voted in the Commons on June 29, 1938, then why can't this be considered the founding date?

The claim that everyone and no one was responsible for creating the park is a cop-out and betrays the professors' collectivist bias. They reveal that bias when they downplay the impact individuals can have on society, saying that "regardless of their influence, [individuals] generally hold a power which they wield collectively." The spirit of this statement warps the study by forcing the spurious conclusion that many individuals share equal responsibility for creating the park.

[...]Credit for the idea of Gatineau Park belongs to Frederick Todd, who proposed it in his 1903 plan for the national capital. The idea was advocated as well by the plans that followed it: the Holt Report in 1915 and the Cauchon Report in 1922. Although these documents recommended creating a park in the Gatineau Hills, they spoke of it only in the briefest and most general of terms. None of them provided blueprints for the park or action plans for setting it up.

[...]When the story of Gatineau Park's creation is stripped of its various myths, the only two men left standing are Mackenzie King, who had to have his arm twisted, and Percy Sparks, who did the twisting. According to the Ottawa Journal of April 12, 1949, King essentially "set the seal of approval on plans [...] submitted to him by far-sighted and public-spirited men of the Woodlands Preservation League." And, as I've demonstrated elsewhere, the leading force behind the league, and Gatineau Park, was Percy Sparks, who did most of the researching, organizing, lobbying and designing that led to its creation and initial development. Why was Percy Sparks was omitted from all previous histories of Gatineau Park?

Citizen: Give credit to Gatineau park's founder [22 Dec 2004]

Friday, October 1, 2004

NCC seeks proposals for Sparks Street development

The National Capital Commission has put out a call for tenders to redevelop two more properties ('Canlands A') on Sparks Street, the former Centre Theatre at 108-166, and a bank building at 106. The proposed complex would include four residential floors on Sparks Street and 15 residential floors on Queen Street.

OBJ: NCC seeks proposals for Sparks Street development [1 Oct 2004]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

NCC selling the rest of Moffatt Farm

The NCC is selling its final 10 acres at Moffatt Farm, to be developed for 133 homes.

OBJ: NCC seeks proposals for Sparks Street development [22 Oct 2004]

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Ground broken for Sparks Street project

Over on Sparks Street, the NCC broke ground on one of its development projects and announced another.

CBC: Sparks Street building to have residences [13 May 2004]
NCC Press Release [12 May 2004]
Sparks Street news items on NCC Watch

Monday, December 8, 2003

Gatineau Park's forgotten founder

Vice president of the New Woodlands Preservation League Jean-Paul Murray writes in the Citizen that the National Capital Commission has misrepresented the story of Gatineau Park, and failed in its mandate to "communicate the capital to Canadians":

Though the NCC attempts to portray Mackenzie King and Jacques Greber as the park's founders, the facts tell us that title rightly belongs to Roderick Percy Sparks.

For instance, the Ottawa Journal of March 30, 1959 credits Sparks with being the "father of the Gatineau Park," adding that as chairman of the Federal Woodlands Preservation League, he "brought about the first purchase by the Dominion government of what is now [...] the Gatineau Park."

[...]Yet in the reams of documents the NCC has produced on this subject, not one mention is made of Sparks or the process that led to the park's creation. Supporting the claim that Sparks led the charge on this issue, however, are seven key documents, most of which he wrote or co-wrote.

[...]As the NCC proceeds with drafting a new master plan for the park, it should consider the facts presented in this article. Although I've brought this matter to its attention several times over the last two years, it has yet to acknowledge Sparks's contribution.

Perhaps the best method to recognize Sparks and complete his work would be to make Gatineau Park into the truly national and public park he envisioned.

Citizen: Gatineau Park's forgotten founder [8 Dec 2003]

Thursday, November 6, 2003

NCC demolishes Metcalfe plans

The National Capital Commission has up and abandoned its plans to demolish large tracts of Sparks Street for an underground parking garage. The surprise announcement was made at the NCC's public annual general meeting last night. They attribute the decision to cancel the very expensive parking lot to various studies, public consultations, meetings with stakeholders, etc., but, cynics that we are, we suspect that the feds simply failed to pony up the necessary dough.

CBC: NCC demolishes Metcalfe plans [6 Nov 2003]
Centretown News: Sparks stores applaud scrapping of plaza [6 Nov 2003]
Chairman Beaudry's speech

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Sparks St. development details revealed

The Citizen reports on the NCC's plans for developing 131 Sparks Street:

The project includes about 300,000 square feet of office space in 13 storeys at Queen and O'Connor streets. On the Sparks street side, street- level retail shops will be topped by 35 apartments filling three storeys. The project also includes parking for 200 vehicles and some street-level retail on Queen and O'Connor streets.

Mr. Snyder wouldn't disclose the cost.

The L-shaped site has been vacant since Citizen moved to the west end in 1973, and its former building was demolished the next year to make way for a federal building that has been stalled for three decades.

"I think what we've planned is an interesting project for obviously a key site in the downtown core," Mr. Snyder said. "We're happy to have satisfied the needs of the various different constituencies that existed with respect to the site."

That means, among other things, preserving the Hardy Arcade, a historic north-south passage that links Sparks Street to Queen in mid-block. The project also will restore or replicate historic facades along Sparks to blend with other shops on the street, and follows City of Ottawa plans to bring more residential spaces downtown, Mr. Snyder said.

[...NCC spokeswoman Laurie] Peters said the deal was negotiated because the two private- sector partners held an option to develop the site that had been awarded years earlier to Canada Trust's real estate arm as part of its purchase of the another Sparks Street property, the Bank of Hong Kong building.

Mr. Snyder and his partners purchased that development option when Canada Trust's new owner, TD Bank, sold off its real estate holdings.

The NCC, which owns the property, has agreed to lease the 300,000 square feet of office area for 20 years, for use by federal government workers, at $23 a square foot -- about $7 million a year.

That's well over typical lease rates for new office buildings in the core, but Ms. Peters said the NCC considered it "a competitive rate" because of the property's unique location and special requirements to preserve heritage components of complex.

Mr. Snyder's company and Morguard also have a 66-year lease with the NCC for the commercial and residential parts of the project for which they'll pay the NCC $3.7 million (not including adjustments for inflation) over the life of the lease, she said.

Citizen: 131 Queen will include shops, homes on Sparks Street [30 Sep 2003]

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

NCC's Sparks Street development costs

The Ottawa Business Journal has an interesting article on some of the back room dealing behind the NCC's development plans for Sparks Street. The upshot is the NCC chose not to put the multi-million dollar development up for tender and has guaranteed to lease the development from the developer at higher than market rates for 20 years. Public Works will lease the space back from the NCC. Amazing what you can accomplish when you have the right rolodex.

OBJ: Third office tower to go up in core [10 Sep 2003]
NCC: 131 Queen Press Release
OBJ: NCC pays above market costs [22 Sep 2003]
Centretown News: Building will mix shops, homes and offices [24 Oct 2003]

Friday, June 13, 2003

The people want more parking

So says the NCC, having polled 600 potential punters about what would get them to visit Sparks Street:

When asked what would make them visit downtown more often, the most popular response was "more parking."

But Dan Donovan finds that response difficult to believe, given the number of empty parking spaces downtown at night. He owns part of the Parliament Pub on Sparks Street and publishes Ottawa Life, also on Sparks.

He accuses the NCC of asking flawed questions to back its proposal for a parking garage.

"This is the first step in the NCC moving to gut four heritage buildings on Sparks Street," said Donovan, who vows that a group of people on Sparks won't let that happen. If the NCC goes ahead with the plan, Donovan plans to sue.

Of course, more parking dovetails nicely with the NCC's grand Sparks Street parking scheme.

Buildings slated for demolition include the Birks Building and the Richmond Building.

CBC: Businesses balk at NCC parking garage [13 Jun 2003]
Citizen: NCC survey urges more parking lots [10 Jun 2003]
OBJ: Spark needed to ignite mall's growth [23 Jun 2003]

Monday, May 5, 2003

"It seems this is almost impossible"

We wish. Chairman Beaudry got a few more column inches in the Citizen today to expound on his grand plans for Sparks Street, presenting a schizophrenic regard for infill development while lamenting that the NCC can't build the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard:

[Beaudry] says the criticism about the heart of the city -- dull, ugly, all concrete and no humanity, has some merit and there is no doubt the Sparks area, one of the city's prime locations, has lost "a lot of its lustre."

Mr. Beaudry says Sparks Street boasts a few good businesses, but most are "cheap shops, most of them second-, third- or fourth- rate."

He says the street is usually dead after 5 p.m., when it should be alive with activity.

Mr. Beaudry says the problem began when the area was being built decades ago. The city approved construction of tower after tower without proper regard for how the area would function as a meeting place for people.

"From the beginning," Mr. Beaudry says, "there should have been more planning and more care taken about the buildings in the core area. Particularly, more balance should have been put in there -- not only office buildings, but residences to put life in the area at night."

Mr. Beaudry says in cities such as London and Paris, which so many people admire, buildings had to be torn down to make way for large boulevards. And he laments that today "it seems this is almost impossible."

Mr. Beaudry says light rail is not necessarily part of the NCC's vision for downtown. The idea of having trains all the way to Sparks Street is the city's vision, and the commission has not taken a stand one way or another.

He says the NCC's aim is to bring more excitement to Sparks Street by having a mix of shops and apartments, and "whether you need light rail out there or whether you don't, I think the proof of that has not been made yet. It has to be proven that light rail will be beneficial."

Mr. Beaudry says he agrees with the city's plan of intensification and points out that, in fact, the NCC has been a leader of infill development.

Right now, he says, NCC-sponsored infill developments include 122 rental units at George and York streets in the Byward Market; 120 units on Murray Street; the 34 condos in the works on Sparks Street; 212 units at Nicholas and Laurier, near the University of Ottawa; and 2,500 units scheduled for LeBreton Flats.

But while he won't get his boulevard, it does look like he'll get his "Metcalfe Lite" square. Apparently a final decision will "likely" be made in the fall. Oddly enough, the article neglects to mention the main reason this square is being foisted on Centretown: it will be the roof for an underground parking lot. Yeah, that's the sort of thinking that made London and Paris great.

Citizen: Breathing life into downtown [5 May 2003]

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Same plans, different day

Chairman Beaudry spoke of the National Capital Commission's plans at an Orleans Chamber of Commerce networking luncheon. Nothing new here, same plans, same excuses for the LeBreton Flats, Sparks Street, Confederation Boulevard, and the McConnell-Laramee freeway.

OBJ: NCC chief charts out vision of future [26 Mar 2003]

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

An eyesore next to Parliament Hill

Researcher Ken Rubin assesses the NCC's Metcalfe Lite parking garage plan in the Citizen:

The above-ground "plaza" on Metcalfe will be sterile and foreboding if the existing drab area in front of the NCC's visitor centre is any guide. The plaza will entail the demolition of three heritage buildings and the moving of two other buildings, including the visitor centre. Far from being a lively, well-located town square, the plaza will essentially function as the concourse to the garage below, making it more like a mass-transit entrance -- lacking, of course, the mass transit.

[...]Documents show that more-distant parking-structure sites were rejected. Options such as park and ride or a tasteful light-rail transit link through the core area, stopping at the Hill, were not seriously considered. And the plans are not connected to a recent City of Ottawa report suggesting an expensive bus-only tunnel downtown.

The parking garage/plaza project, if proceeded with, seems destined to bring more downtown disruption. Bus and car pick-up and drop-off points will overly dominate area traffic and pour hundreds more visitors into a small area. Documents indicate that the project could mean reopening Sparks Street for some traffic, severely restricting Queen Street traffic, and more than occasional area road closings when bus and vehicle flows are unmanageable.

The cost estimates for this parking garage/plaza and related projects are still well hidden and not thought out, but no doubt will be exorbitant. For an initial idea of cost, turn to the already inflated millions of dollars the NCC spent on purchasing Sparks Street office buildings. And recall the high maintenance and repair bills associated with such downtown parking structures as the National Arts Centre underground lot for an idea of the future costs.

Such a parking garage/plaza configuration will not kick-start downtown revitalization, of Sparks Street in particular. Set against the magic of Parliament Hill, it just does not work. It's about as imaginative as the national "vista" created by putting up a 66-year leased condominium concrete tower on what was the promising Daly site nearby.

[...]It's too bad that the federal government has learned little from the controversy it faced over tearing down more of Metcalfe Street further south for a larger and equally questionable mall.

After all, these are the same folks who "renewed" the downtown core of the former Hull in the 1970s with massive federal buildings and parking complexes, and who now want to create a high-rise, high- traffic community in and through LeBreton Flats. They see nothing out of the ordinary or undesirable about plunking down a mega- parking garage opposite Parliament Hill.

Citizen: An eyesore next to Parliament Hill [11 Dec 2002]

Thursday, December 5, 2002

Sparks Street report recommends huge parking garage

A parking study by Delcan for the NCC recommends the parking garage that the NCC wants to build under Sparks Street should accommodate up to 1350 cars and 30 buses:

A downtown parking study commissioned by the NCC is recommending the construction of a huge underground garage for up to 1,350 cars and 30 tour buses in the shadow of Parliament Hill. The project is twice the size of a 650-car garage envisioned a few months ago by NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry.

[...]"The existing parking supply/demand conditions, compounded by the impending loss of short-term parking supply and an increase in parking demand, will result in a core-area parking supply shortage that could have adverse impact on downtown's vitality," says the report, obtained through an Access to Information request by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.

It recommends that "a parking facility with capacity for between 1,000 and 1,350 parking spaces be provided in a location within a five- to 10-minute walk of Parliament Hill" and that the garage "have capacity and amenities for up to 30 tour buses and their passengers."

As usual, the report had to pried from the NCC through an access to information request. In response to the revelation, the NCC downplayed the report and claimed it was still working with its 650 car proposal.

Citizen: 1,350-car garage urged for Hill area [5 Dec 2002]

Monday, October 14, 2002

NCC pitches parking plan

The NCC has completed a transportation and parking study that, surprise surprise, confirms a need for a parking lot. The NCC's parking lot. Of course, they are spinning this all as a big benefit to Sparks Street, which will receive hordes of tourists off the busses in the lot etc., etc. Reportedly, one NCC plan calls for a four-level lot for 560 cars and 25 tour buses. No word on the cost.

Centretown News: Parking garage divides Sparks St. merchants [25 Oct 2002]
OBJ: NCC pitches parking plan [14 Oct 2002]

Friday, September 20, 2002

NCC reveals more of LeBreton Flats plan

Complete with colour-coded map and the now familiar artist's conception, the LeBreton Flats plan is making the rounds again. From the Citizen:

The NCC released the first detailed artist's rendering of how it expects LeBreton Flats to look in a few years.

The 12-storey buildings, containing apartments or offices, will be on LeBreton Boulevard, a new street on the south side of a triangular park in the area just west of Parliament Hill.

The new Canadian War Museum is scheduled to open in May, 2005 on the north side of the park, close to the Ottawa River.

Elisabeth Arnold, councillor for the area, said last week she feared a "highway hell" if too many high-rise buildings were permitted on LeBreton Flats.

That the proposal includes 12-story buildings now seems to be causing controversy. But as the Citizen recently pointed out, "If we insist on buildings that are only a couple of storeys high, we're not going to get a lively concentration of people living, and working in offices, stores, bars and restaurants. We'd just be buying into more loose suburban development." Just make sure the streets have a human scale, like Bank Street in Centretown. Unfortunately, they appear to be planning King Edward Boulevard II.

The plan to demolish three heritage buildings and move two others on Sparks Street to make way for a parkade is also being shopped around again. All that's changed is the NCC is now using the post-September 11 security arrangements on the hill to justify the demolition.

The need for more parking in the Sparks Street area has been made more acute by the federal government's decision to close Parliament Hill to tour buses and automobiles, he said.

The decision followed last September's terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mr. Beaudry said he expects the federal government to decide next spring whether to demolish three heritage buildings on the north side of Sparks Street, and to move to two others, in order to create space for a large underground parking garage along three blocks at the north end of Metcalfe Street.

Demolishing and moving buildings would permit a parking garage large enough for 650 automobiles and 30 buses, Mr. Beaudry said.

If no buildings were demolished or moved, the parking garage could accommodate 300 automobiles and no tour buses, he said.

The plan, of course, dates back to before 2000, and originated with the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard scheme.

Citizen: NCC looks to change face of Ottawa [20 Sep 2002]
Radio-Canada: La CCN veut démolir 3 édifices historiques sur la rue Sparks [20 Sep 2002]
CBC: 12-storey towers planned for LeBreton [20 Sep 2002]
Centretown News: NCC plan for downtown called 'robbery' [27 Sep 2002]

Saturday, August 30, 2002

NCC looking at opening Sparks to traffic

The Citizen reports that the NCC has hired a consultant, Robert McKinley, to examine four options for traffic on Sparks Street: Leave it as is; introduce trolley buses; allow regular buses; or reopen the street to all traffic. Why would the NCC be considering putting traffic back on Sparks Street at this point? Maybe it has something to do with their other grand plan for Sparks Street: levelling the north side of Sparks for a new underground parking garage at Metcalfe.

The best option is, of course, to leave Sparks Street as it is. Cars and busses won't help Sparks Street, intensification will. Of course, intensification is something that isn't accomplished by demolishing buildings (all of them heritage). Under that plan, the Bates, Birks and Fisher buildings on the north side of the street will be demolished while the building that houses the NCC tourist infocentre will be moved half a block to the west. What a coincidence. What a waste.

Citizen: A little light on Sparks [30 Aug 2002]
NCC Watch: 10 Reasons why the NCC's Plans for Sparks Street Suck

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Chairman Beaudry testifies

Chairman Beaudry's testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance touched on a wide variety of topics, including Moffatt Farm, Sparks Street, grand boulevards, Treasury Board's directive for selling surplus lands, and Chairman beaudry's own salary. After a set statement featuring the usual bumph about the NCC's plans and awards, Beaudry faced a variety of questions from the Senators. Chairman Beaudry's answers were occasionally revealing:

  • Capital appropriations. According to Mr Beaudry, $20 million is given to the NCC every year by Treasury Board, but they need $25 million to $26 million to meet their capital expenditures. Hence the need to sell land that they themselves declare surplus. Curiously, throughout the testimony, there was never any question of the NCC actually reducing its capital expenditures. Indeed, when asked what the NCC would do once it had run out of surplus land, Beaudry replied that "perhaps Treasury Board will change their policy at that point in time."
  • Surplus land. The NCC decides in its infinite wisdom. To quote Chairman Beaudry: "Surplus land is determined after a long analysis by the people at the NCC. They take into account the circumstances that have taken place, and look into whether this land is needed for the NCC's operations, programs or symbolism. We decide afterwards what land should be declared surplus." No surprise there, then.
  • The Metcalfe grand boulevard. The NCC never throws any idea away, no matter how bad. To quote Chairman beaudry: "The grand alley boulevard is not in the cards at this point in time. Years from now it may become an idea to be pursued."
  • Sparks Street. The NCC still wants its square and underground parking lot for tour busses. Specifically, it wants to demolish the Hong Kong Bank and Montreal Trust buildings. They are also talking with Public Works about converting a building for residential use.
  • The City of Ottawa's zoning policies and the OMB. Unfair. To quote Chairman Beaudry: "Generally speaking, the city of Ottawa always likes to keep NCC's land as open land, no zoning. Why? Because they can use it for their purposes. I do not think this is fair. We have said to the city, "When we do not feel it is fair, we are going to go to the OMB." These are some of the cases where we went to the OMB in the 1990s: Concord and Echo, Innes and Blair, Heron and Walkley. Each time we were successful at the OMB, because OMB felt that the city was not being fair to the NCC as fair as zoning was concerned."
  • The people of Ottawa. Spoiled. "The people in this area here are using all of the facilities that the NCC has been providing for over the last 100 years. All those parks, pathways, parkways and Winterlude, which are being paid for by federal money, are being used to the extent of 85 per cent by the people of this region. Not too many people in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Riviera de Loup, Quebec, and Norway Bay use these facilities. The people in this area, paid by federal money, are using them extensively. We consider that when it becomes a local issue, then at that point, it is not NCC's responsibility to provide these parks for local issues."

Transcript of Beaudry's testimony [11 Jun 2002]
Chairman Beaudry's speaking notes
Standing Senate Committee on National Finance Report on the NCC
Sheila Copps' Testimony before the Standing Senate Committee

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Don Boudria put to Work

Local area MP Don Boudria has been chosen to fill Alfonso Gagliano's giant shoes over at Public Works. But while some local area politicians think this will be good for infrastructure in the Ottawa region, Sun columnist Greg Weston reports that secret negotiations are underway to allow Public Works to tear down (irony alert!) heritage buildings currently standing in the way of the NCC's Sparks Street plaza.

Meanwhile, Truscan Property Corp., the NCC's partner in developing the south side of Sparks, has dropped objections to the city's heritage designation of the Sparks Street area after the city approved Truscan's plans for its development. The NCC has not.

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

10 Reasons why the NCC's Plans for Sparks Street Suck

As the NCC moves forward with its plans for Sparks Street, we'd like to present this handy review of why their plans to demolish several blocks of downtown Ottawa for a plaza, er, suck.


Thursday, December 13, 2001

NCC demolishes more history in Gatineau Park

Writing in the Citizen, Cantley writer Bob Phillips describes the loss of historic buildings in Gatineau Park, and lays the blame at the feet of the NCC:

The 1895 Sparks house was wooden-frame, built of plank-on-plank construction, at 420 Meech Lake Rd. at the foot of Skyline Hill, in the woods, not obvious from the road.

More than 105 years later, Mr. Murray, unaware of the building, was drawn to it by the persistence of Scout who had lived there until the most recent tenants had been evicted five months previously. In the subsequent months, Mr. Murray entered the building many times, often with his friend, Andrew McDermott of Ottawa. They found it suffering from shocking neglect.

They gradually learned more about the building and its longtime owner, and after diligent documentary research on Mr. Sparks, Mr. Murray took great pains to try to save the building as a window on the past, notably on Mr. Sparks and his vision.

He found no interest, but from a National Capital Commission official, Giselle Kelley, he learned that the NCC intended to demolish the structures on the site "in the coming months" -- without any public consultation.

Mr. Sparks still seemed an embarrassment to the NCC, as the most articulate spokesman for a thoroughly public park after the NCC's expropriation, beginning in the 1950s, of the proliferating private residences in it -- including, with his approval, Mr. Sparks's own house.

Mr. Sparks accused the government of shooting itself in the foot by spending millions for new roads, notably the southerly section of the Gatineau Parkway leading to Tache Boulevard, that escalated property values before it had negotiated to buy out the owners.

Just 20 years after Mr. Sparks's death in 1959, the NCC had stopped even the purchase of private property on the market, let alone expropriation.

At 10:52 p.m. on July 15, 2001, the Sparks house was enveloped in flames and lost forever. After that, NCC heavy equipment moved in to landscape the site.

This erased outbuildings and all other memories of Mr. Sparks -- except for a fireplace, cold and black.

[...]Old-timers have been talking about an incident more than three decades ago. Skiers came upon park officials demolishing, without public consultation, part of Mr. King's bequest to the nation, small homes and outbuildings on the Kingsmere site, because they had been allowed to become a nuisance to maintain. The public outcry led the outraged skiers to found the Historical Society of the Gatineau.

Unfortunately, this sort of neglect is absolutely typical of the NCC, not only in Gatineau Park but throughout the Greenbelt.

Citizen: Park building was symbol of history [13 Dec 2001]

Friday, October 12, 2001

NCC Sparks Street update

In May 2001, the NCC announced it had acquired another building on the south side of Sparks Street, but it wasn't until the "Annual Meeting" that they elaborated on their plans for Sparks Street. It turns out their plans were stymied somewhat when the Bank of Nova Scotia, in the middle of the block, "demanded too much for its property." As a result, the NCC has announced a scaled down development for the stretch between O'Connor and the Bank of Nova Scotia, in partnership with Truscan Property Corp. The $60 million development is to incorporate an office tower facing Queen Street, and residential and retail facing Sparks Street. The buildings facing Sparks are to be demolished, but the facades preserved - just one more kick in the teeth to heritage conservationists, who, unlike the NCC, see heritage preservation as involving a bit more than keeping a fresh coat of paint on building facades:

Another critic, Gordon Cullingham of the Historical Society of Ottawa, draws a distinction between local streets, like Sparks, and streets that are national in scope, like Wellington.

"Sparks is the old civic, commercial street," he says. "It's Ottawa's street, not Canada's street, and (the NCC) stealing it."

[...]Echoing the views of many in the heritage community, Cullingham says the plaza, with its vista leading up to Parliament Hill, ignores the Gothic architecture and character Ottawa shares with London and instead "tries to ape the great classical capitals of the world, like Washington and Paris."

Cullingham says he believes the plan is being pushed aggressively by a prime minister who wants to leave behind a legacy to the capital.

"He wants (the NCC) to get rid of a lot of buildings so people can see his big castle on the Hill."

Cullingham says the plaza would split the Sparks Street Mall into two parts, obstructing sauntering shoppers and killing commerce.

NCC board member Marc Denhez says NCC planners are specifically trying to avoid interrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic along Sparks. As well, they are striving to preserve the traditional east-west view along the street by maintaining the front exteriors of the buildings it incorporates in its development.

The latter issue has provoked angry responses from heritage organizations, who say maintaining only the facades of buildings while destroying what's behind them, would leave only hollow shells of historic structures.

No announcement was made concerning the properties east of the Bank of Nova Scotia, but one can only fear the worst - we can be certain that the plan to create a plaza to give a better view of parliament (by demolishing buildings) hasn't died.

In addition to the original $40 million the NCC was given to "revitalize" Sparks Street, Treasury Board has given them another $2.56 million, apparently "to undertake detailed studies and planning work on the revitalization of the area."

Centretown News: NCC reconsiders Sparks St. makeover [12 Oct 2001]

Friday, September 28, 2001

NCC reveals its fantasy world at first meeting

Citizen columnist Randall Denley gives his take on the NCC's annual meeting:

It's sad to think that the people at the National Capital Commission actually believe all the guff they delivered to the public this week, but they probably do. How else could they carry on with their redundant paternalism?

Tuesday's public general meeting, the first of its type, was billed as proof that the new and improved NCC would be more open and pay more attention to the public.

If that was its real goal, it fell sadly short of the mark. NCC chairman Marcel Beaudry dealt with public questions with a combination of obliqueness and lectures while the members of his board looked on silently. Senior staff chipped in the sort of bafflegab that only planning bureaucrats can produce.

The apartment building and shops the NCC has approved for the Daly site "will bring resolution and some real vitality," says NCC executive John Abel. We're to be impressed because there will be a little row of trees and wider sidewalks on each side of this banal effort. There was lots of talk of linkages and pedestrian interaction.

A more honest summary would be that the NCC, desperate after more than a decade of fumbling on the site, had grasped at any project that was likely to be completed. A good question to ask about this project, and many others of the NCC, is why do we need a federal agency to do this work? Surely there is no national interest in holding the lease to a downtown apartment building.

The audience was told about the NCC's exciting plans to "revitalize" part of Sparks Street. The revitalization consists of preserving the facades of old buildings while working with a private developer to create some glass office and retail monstrosity behind the false fronts. The NCC seems to believe that heritage preservation consists of nothing more than preserving the front walls of buildings.

[...]The NCC board was conspicuous for its lack of contribution to the meeting. From what little we know of real NCC meetings, the board members have little more to say in private.

After all, they aren't from here. What do they really know about the kinds of things the NCC does? The short answer is that they know what Marcel Beaudry tells them. The NCC is a one-man show.

Citizen: NCC reveals its fantasy world at first meeting [28 Sep 2001]

Thursday, September 27, 2001

NCC General Meeting predictably irrelevant

The National Capital Commission's first annual general meeting went pretty much as anyone with a passing familiarity with the NCC might expect. The meeting, one of the superficial recommendations made by Glen Shortliffe in a report released late last year, lived up to its billing in every respect. For roughly an hour and a half, the NCC presented some slideshows and an amateurish video extolling their own virtues. And then the crowd got to hector Marcel for another hour and a half during a meaningless question and answer session.

With the members of the NCC Board of Directors flanking him on either side, serving much the same purpose as the stage backdrop and the potted plants, Chairman Beaudry got things rolling with a 15 minute speech that was as bland and uninformative as it was patronizing. Four slide show presentations, on Sparks Street, Leamy Lake Park, the Daly site, and the LeBreton Flats, followed in quick succession. The NCC finished its presentation with a branding exercise, in the form of a short amateur video entitled "Our passion, our mission, your capital." Whatever.

The question and answer session was enjoyable if only for the pleasure of watching Chairman Beaudry and his 14 apparatchiks maintain their plastic smiles throughout the entire charade. Members of the Moffatt Farm Citizen's Coalition and the coalition opposing the Lac Leamy golf course were best represented. Chairman Beaudry fielded virtually all the questions, responding with some breathtakingly patronizing bromides, at one point even going so far as to credit the NCC and its forbears for whatever quality of life the region has.

NCC: Summary of the question and answer session
Citizen: NCC's meeting frustrates opponents of casino golf course [27 Sep 2001]
Centretown News: Open doors, now open ears [12 Oct 2001]

Thursday, July 19, 2001

'Chretien square would kill my store'

At least one Sparks Street store owner is worried about the secret Ontario Municipal Board 'mediation' meetings held this week to determine the fate of Sparks Street at Metcalfe - the National Capital Commission wants to demolish several buildings for a "ceremonial square.":

But while the summer tourist crowd picks over Mr. Cook's hoard of crafts, T-shirts and Mountie models, a secret meeting between the National Capital Commission, the city and seven private interests could be destroying his business.

It's what the Ontario Municipal Board calls a "mediation" between these groups, which have conflicting ideas on the NCC plan to create a Metcalfe ceremonial square between Wellington and Queen streets. It's not a formal hearing, so it's not public.

If it goes through, the plan would see Mr. Cook's building, constructed in about 1860, moved down Sparks to make way for the square and a $40-million redevelopment.

The "Chretien square," as the 79-year-old Mr. Cook calls it, would kill the store.

"I would go out of business," said Mr. Cook.

Citizen: Chretien square would kill my store [19 July 2001]

Monday, July 16, 2001

Sparks Street secret meetings begin

The Ontario Municipal Board is having meetings with the National Capital Commission and property owners at City Hall to discuss the NCC's plan to demolish buildings on Sparks Street to create a "ceremonial square." The meetings are closed and run from July 16 to 18.

OBJ: Sparks Street fate to be discussed in closed meeting
CBC: Discussing the future of Sparks Street Mall [16 Jul 2001]

Friday, July 13, 2001

The National Capital Commission's planning disasters through time

The NCC has redone its web site ( Fear not, the site is still rich with irony, and apparently they still can't get enough of themselves, particularly their own special brand of planning genius. In a new section Planning Canada's Capital Region, they go on at length about their perceived planning victories. As a public service, NCC Watch offers this alternate planning time line:

"Stalinist Planning Writ Small: A people's history of the NCC"


First settlement on the north side of the Ottawa River. Notably, this was done without the aid of NCC planners.


A town is founded on the south side of the river when the building of the Rideau Canal begins. Incredibly, this too was done without any advice from the NCC.


Ottawa is chosen as Capital of the newly formed Province of Canada (created from Upper and Lower Canada, parts of today's Ontario and Quebec). The NCC regrets that it wasn't around at the time so that it could come up with this idea first. But if they had been, they would have, you bet.


Formation of the Ottawa Improvement Commission "to beautify" Ottawa. It clears industry from around the Rideau Canal and creates parks and Ottawa's first scenic parkway. It then snubs the remaining industry by spreading vicious rumours about it and never inviting it to dinner.


Todd Plan: Expresses the idea of a Capital region framed in a network of parks. Pushes for a boulevard to link the Parliament Buildings to Rideau Hall. The story behind this is classic Federal Government planning in action: Sussex was one of Ottawa's first and most successful commercial streets, but Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor General, wanted to enjoy a "beautiful ride on her way from Rideau Hall". She eventually got the government to expropriate the entire west side of Sussex, except for the Daly Building (that would be taken care of later). The Connaught Building was built between 1913-1915, but then the rest of the land stayed vacant. It was used as a parking space for decades. The U.S. Embassy was finally built there in the 90s.


Holt Report: Recommends establishment of a federal district planning authority and extension of the park system.


Yet Another Report: Boldly supports the idea of a new planning authority, recommends removal of rail lines from the centre, building of highways, extension of the park system, general tidying up.


The Federal District Commission is formed with the authority and budget to enact past recommendations. And, according to this time line anyway, promptly does nothing for the next 20 years. This period is now looked back on as something of a Golden Age.


Greber Plan rather imaginatively recommends emasculating Ottawa's rail network and building roads, decentralizing government offices (resulting in those triumphs, Place du Portage, Les Terraces de la Chaudiere, Confederation Heights, etc.), and expropriating vast amounts of land for the Greenbelt.


The National Capital Act sets the mandate for a new kind of planning authority (just like the old planning authority).


The NCC expropriates land for the Greenbelt from people like the Woodburns.


The National Capital Commission (NCC) is formed to carry out recommendations of the Greber Plan. Of course, they've no intention of stopping there.


True to their ideals, the NCC expropriates and demolishes the LeBreton Flats. Incredibly, this was planned without consulting the people who actually lived there. The land remains vacant.


The NCC generously decides to not demolish Ottawa Union Station, figuring a vacant lot might not look so good during the Centennial. The train station was however moved to the suburbs, guaranteeing its irrelevance. The rail lines were replaced with roads such as the Nicholas Expressway.


The Federal Government expropriates the north side of Sparks Street, essentially freezing development and accelerating its decline.


Fearing its budget isn't growing fast enough, the NCC persuades the government to expand its mandate to include public programming, because the public need programming.


After neglecting the building for a decade, the NCC demolishes the Daly Building in the heart of Ottawa, quashing plans for its restoration. The land remains vacant.


The NCC conceive a Vision for the Core Area (complete with a plan to demolish Metcalfe Street), approve a Plan for Canada's Capital, prepare a Core Area Concept of Canada's Capital, and develop a Core Area Sector Plan. That's two plans, a vision, and a concept. On the practical side, the development of the Daly site flounders.

NCC: Planning chronology

Friday, July 6, 2001

Sparks Street heritage future to be decided in secret meeting

The Citizen reports on an upcoming secret meeting to decide on the future of Sparks Street:

The fate of one of Ottawa's most historic and vital downtown areas will be deliberated in secret.

The Ontario Municipal Board will hold meetings from July 16 to 18 at Ottawa City Hall, with the National Capital Commission and downtown property owners on one side and the city on the other.

At issue are historical designations passed by the former city of Ottawa last year for the Sparks and Bank streets area and the city's recommendation that the districts be turned into national historic sites by the National Monument Board.

The NCC wants to create a $40-million ceremonial square extending from Wellington to Queen streets, in conjunction with the commission's Sparks Street office, retail, parking and housing redevelopment. The proposals would clash with the city's heritage designations and could prevent the NCC project.

[...]"The discussions should be in a more public venue," Alta Vista Councillor Peter Hume said. "Open always has to be better.

[...]Mr. Hume said the OMB mediation was chosen by the parties involved because it would be less likely to generate criticism.

The NCC backed off from building a ceremonial boulevard from the Parliament Buildings to the Museum of Nature along Metcalfe due to a storm of public protest. The scaled-down proposal to build the square has been dubbed "Metcalfe Lite."

NCC spokeswoman Laurie Peters would only confirm the date of the meeting and said local lawyer Peter Vice would represent the commission.

The Sparks and Metcalfe projects would result in the demolition of a number of historic buildings and moving the Marshall and Telegraph buildings in the area, said heritage critic Barry Padolsky, an architect.

"The NCC's proposal to move and destroy historic buildings violates the whole essence of the heritage district that the city has designated," Mr. Padolsky said.

Citizen: Sparks Street heritage future to be decided in secret meeting [6 Jul 2001]

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

NCC and city urged to work together

The City of Ottawa's 20/20 Growth Summit is now over, and the planning masterminds have concluded that the City and NCC should share the same vision, whatever it might be. At a special session entitled "Capital City - the role of the NCC and federal government", speakers included Chairman Beaudry, among others:

"We are facing a difficult problem in bringing together all the ideas that have come forward in the last couple of days," said Gilles Paquet, director of the University of Ottawa's Centre on Governance, said yesterday during the final session of the city's Ottawa 20/20 Smart Growth Summit. "(Municipal, federal and NCC leaders) are not always singing from the same songbook."

A speech from National Capital Commission chairman Marcel Beaudry surveyed the commission's history in Ottawa and current plans for adding residences to Sparks Street, creating a Metcalfe Street plaza and building on LeBreton Flats, before he found himself defending the NCC's role.

"Most community association representatives have very little trust for the NCC," said Action Sandy Hill president Peter Marwitz, who echoed thoughts voiced by others in the audience and on the summit's Web site that the NCC should work more co-operatively with the city and community groups, or even relinquish its power.

Mr. Paquet suggested the federal government's voice in Ottawa should be concentrated in the NCC, instead of spread out among Public Works and other departments, to allow the NCC and the mayors of Ottawa and the soon-to-be-amalgamated Outaouais to negotiate effectively. But Mr. Beaudry said he saw little need to change the current arrangement.

"There are some (community associations) that have always been negative about the NCC and I don't think we're going to be able to change that, whatever we do. On the other hand I think most of the population feel that we're doing a good job," he said, adding he can't see the NCC gaining any more power than it has now. "There's so many departments involved. Transportation, for instance -- I don't see Minister (David) Collenette would be turning over his responsibility to me."

They've set up some forums, so head on over and let them know what you think of the NCC.

Citizen: City, NCC urged to share vision [19 Jun 2001]

Thursday, May 17, 2001

Sparks Street madness continues

The NCC has purchased yet another building on the south side of Sparks Street. Not surprisingly, after paying $9.2 million for 100 Sparks, significantly above the assessed value, the NCC is trying to keep the inflated prices it pays secret. (The 6,500-square-foot building was recently assessed at $1,196,000.) The NCC appears to be pursuing its plan to move and demolish buildings to create a square, dubbed "Metcalfe Light" as it constitutes a scaled-down version of the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard scheme that was scrapped awhile back. As usual, nobody outside of the NCC knows for sure what they are doing.

Update: The NCC is looking at three more properties to complete its collection: the Bank of Nova Scotia (118 Sparks St), the Hong Kong Bank (126 Sparks St; owned by Truscan Property Corp.) and Hoops and Yesterday's Restaurants (owned by Stan Ages).

Citizen: Sparks Street madness continues [17 May 2001]
OBJ: NCC eyes three more Sparks St. sites [29 May 2001]

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Yet another strategy for revitalizing Ottawa

It's official; Sheila Copps, Canadian Heritage Minister, announced a plan to put the War Museum on The LeBreton Flats after all. The plan includes $100 million for the museum and another $60 million to clean the land and move the Ottawa River Parkway. The "Metcalfe Light" plan for Sparks Street is still on the table as well.

Citizen: New plan for Flats [15 May 2001]
CBC: New home for War Museum on LeBreton Flats [16 May 2001]

Friday, March 23, 2001

Ridgemont residents to fight 'done deal'

Just one more illustration of why we don't need the NCC. It is NCC policy to sell land it expropriated to finance its schemes (the Woodburn Dairy Farm is a good example). In this case, the NCC gave the city 100 acres of NCC greenspace in exchange for a zoning change on land now being developed. In effect, they expropriated the Greenbelt in the 60's to finance Poster Collars and overpriced real estate on Sparks Street. For this we need a Federal Crown corporation? It's a ludicrous way to run a city.

Citizen: Ridgemont residents to fight 'done deal' [23 Mar 2001]

Thursday, March 8, 2001

Chretien's 'grand design' for the capital

Jean Chretien is apparently one of the driving forces behind plans for museums and monuments on The LeBreton Flats, as well as the Sparks Street plaza. Of course, the 'grand design' also included the late, unlamented Metcalfe Grand Boulevard. The NCC, meanwhile, is waiting for the government to commit to putting the War Museum on the Flats before starting development. The article ominously compares the Flats to Hull, stating "LeBreton Flats represents the largest development in the capital since the federal government turned much of downtown Hull into office towers for bureaucrats 20 years ago." Here's hoping things don't turn out quite so badly.

Citizen: Chretien has 'grand design' for the capital [8 Mar 2001]

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Local Liberal MPs content with NCC

No surprise here, the Citizen asked Ottawa area MPs what they thought of the recently released report on the NCC and found overwhelming apathy:

A major report from the National Capital Commission on how to improve its relations with local governments and citizens has been available for almost a week now, yet most Ottawa-area members of Parliament have been slow to find out what's in it. The few who have read the report seem strangely content with the idea of the NCC safeguarding its habit of secrecy.

Ottawa Centre MP Mac Harb, whose constituency includes Sparks Street and LeBreton Flats, insists that opening NCC meetings to the public would politicize its work and make it impossible to carry out the NCC's mandate on behalf of all Canadians. If some of its decisions anger his constituents, well, Mr. Harb considers that a small price to pay for all the NCC's good work in the region.

Eugene Bellemare (Ottawa-Orleans) agrees. He says the report means there will be more openness at the NCC than before, although people with "extreme views" will complain.We disagree with these MPs' analysis. But at least they were willing to share their views when we asked.

The Ottawa-area's 10 Liberal MPs (Scott Reid, Lanark-Carleton's Canadian Alliance rookie, gets left out here) will gather today for their weekly regional caucus meeting. We hope that they have all, at last, found time to review the $250,000 NCC report so they can discuss it with intelligence and even suggest improvements.

Take Ottawa West-Nepean's Marlene Catterall, who told the Citizen during the recent election campaign that "no one has worked harder" than she to pry open the secrecy surrounding the NCC. Fine, then what does she think about the recommendation that the NCC establish a Planning Advisory Committee with the mayor of the new City of Ottawa and the chairman of the Outaouais Urban Community? Do the suggestions that the NCC hold an annual general meeting open to the public, as well as semi-annual public consultations with local interest groups, satisfy her?

Quite frankly, we don't know; Ms. Catterall never bothered to get back to us. Nor did Marcel Proulx (Hull-Aylmer) or Robert Bertrand (Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle). Gatineau MP Mark Assad did return our call -- to advise us that he wanted to consult with his Liberal colleagues today before giving his opinion. (Whatever happened to independent thinking?)

Ottawa-Vanier's Mauril Belanger also called back, to tell us he was still in the process of reading the 86-page report and probably wouldn't be ready to comment until the end of the week.

That's better than Government House Leader Don Boudria, the long- time MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, whose office informed us that the minister would not comment because the NCC comes within the mandate of his cabinet colleague, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. But fellow cabinet minister John Manley (Ottawa South) doesn't share Mr. Boudria's qualms about jurisdiction. The foreign minister's office told us he was encouraged the NCC board had accepted all 11 recommendations, which suggested the NCC was "moving towards enhancing openness and the consultative process."

That view was shared by Nepean-Carleton's David Pratt, who wants to give the NCC a couple of years to see whether the recommended changes work in practice.

The NCC's impact on the Ottawa area is too important for so many local MPs to be so passive about a major report on its future. If the local Liberal caucus doesn't care about pressing NCC accountability to the public, neither will the agency itself.

The regional Liberal caucus has a history of parroting the NCC line instead of representing their constituents' concerns.

Citizen: Ottawa's passive majority [13 Dec 2000]

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]

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

NCC blunders endangered bikers

The NCC isn't just incapable of town planning, they're also incapable of managing the assets they already have, as this letter to the editor of The Citizen makes clear:

Though Colonel By Drive has been closed to traffic every summer Sunday for the last 30 years, the NCC astutely decided to leave this road, south of the Pretoria Bridge, open to traffic this past Sunday in light of its decision to close other routes for the "millennium drive."

The problem is, the NCC failed to tell all the thousands of people who habitually turned up to exercise on their regular Sunday morning route. It even failed to inform many of its own organizers, who proceeded as usual to barricade neighbourhood access routes such as Clegg Street, giving the appearance that the road was closed.

However, other accesses, such as the Bronson Avenue ramp, were left wide open to traffic. Skaters had no way of knowing that the road was open to traffic, and cars had no reason to expect bikes and bladers in the middle of the road.

[...]NCC personnel "controlling" the situation were absolutely useless. Those at the Pretoria Bridge made no effort to inform skaters/bikers who carried on along Colonel By that the remaining section was open to traffic. There were no signs.

When irate citizens approached them to do something, they babbled uselessly into walkie-talkies, to no avail.

[...]What is wrong with the NCC? Last summer, its only accomplishment was to provoke dog owners by proposing a ban on unleashed dogs; the year before, it proposed a harebrained widening of Metcalfe Street, and this spring it paid too much for Sparks Street real estate.

Citizen: NCC blunders endangered bikers [5 Jul 2000]

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Open the doors at the NCC

The Citizen has some suggestions for the NCC in an editorial today:

The NCC has accomplished many things with our money, from the creation of Gatineau Park to improving the appearance of downtown Ottawa. But its relations with some citizens have soured. Land expropriations for big NCC projects such as the Greenbelt were a sore point with many local farmers, especially when some of that property was later considered "surplus" by the commission and put up for sale. Many of the commission's redevelopment projects, such as tearing down LeBreton Flats and the old Daly department store, fuelled skepticism about the commission's ability to finish a job. For many years, the NCC didn't even abide by development processes set out by local governments. Legally, it didn't have to.

Through it all, the secret deliberations of the commission generated intense suspicion, reinforced recently when the commission quietly confirmed that it had been given $40 million in federal cash to buy buildings along Sparks Street. (This fits into the prime minister's hope for a better view of Parliament Hill from downtown.) Many now ask what the commission is: a planner or a developer.

The only way to answer and build local trust is with openness. Meetings held in public will reassure citizens that the commission's work is legitimate. They will also allow city councillors to thoroughly air development issues with NCC planners. We might even start talking about a single development plan for the capital region, covering both sides of the Ottawa River, rather than separate plans and backroom chats. Public meetings will put questions of conflict of interest and proper processes into the open.

Chairman Beaudry and his enablers on the NCC board have been consistently hostile to the idea of open meetings.

Citizen: Open the doors at the NCC [3 May 2000]
Citizen: The public makes more noise than they should [24 Aug 1998]

Friday, March 31, 2000

Inept NCC flops again with Daly site

Citizen columnist Randall Denley sums up the lack of progress at the Daly site:

It appears as if the National Capital Commission has done it again. After a process more exhaustive than the one used to pick the Pope, the NCC has chosen a developer for the Daly site that isn't going to develop the Daly site.

Canadian Gateway Development is trying to put the best possible face on the fact that nothing is actually happening with its hotel/ aquarium, but it's difficult not to think that this project is going to be floating belly up at the top of the fish tank soon. Although Gateway was chosen as the developer in June of 1998, it admitted this week that it still doesn't have a hotel deal tied down. Without that, the project is going nowhere.

How can that be when the NCC spent a year supposedly making sure that the developer had everything arranged? Since the hotel occupies the space from the second to the ninth floors, it leaves kind of a big gap.

And get this. The NCC signed off on the details last July but the developer still hasn't signed the lease. How's that for a sign of corporate commitment?

[...]Everyone thinks the Daly site requires something special, but the list of special things that will pay for themselves is so short as to be non-existent. Would it be too simple just to sell the land to CP Hotels so the Chateau Laurier can put up an annex on the site?

From the outset, this has been a project that brought to mind the phrase "desperately cobbled together." An aquarium in the basement, a store on the ground floor and a hotel above. At least it would have been unique.

Gateway might still come up with a plan for a boring office building. How would that sit with the bold and imaginative NCC, now so invigorated with federal cash that it's ready to buy and demolish buildings on Sparks Street?

"We're disappointed. We'd have liked to see things happen sooner than this, obviously," NCC spokeswoman Diane Dupuis says.

The lease is for 66 years. Good thing. If it ever gets signed, that might just allow time to break ground.

Citizen: Inept NCC flops again with Daly site [31 Mar 2000]

Thursday, March 2, 2000

NCC confirms Metcalfe Lite project

The NCC released its grand plan for the capital yesterday:

The National Capital Commission yesterday confirmed what has long been suspected: It is considering moving heritage buildings to create more open space near the Parliament Buildings.

It's the plan known as Metcalfe Lite, creation of a two-block- long square beside Metcalfe Street, immediately south of Parliament Hill.

It would mean dismantling two heritage buildings standing on the west side of Metcalfe between Wellington and Sparks streets.

The buildings, which now contain Four Corners gift shop and the NCC's information centre, would be re-erected on the western edge of the new square, next to another heritage building, which until recently was the U.S. embassy on Wellington Street.

[...]The block to the south of Sparks Street would be a new development, with a 150-unit luxury apartment building at the corner of Metcalfe and Queen streets.

Marcel Beaudry, chairman of the NCC, estimated it would cost less than $1 million to move the two heritage buildings. He said they would replace buildings of little heritage value, including the former Birks jewelry story, on Sparks Street.

The NCC has already decided to create a square on Metcalfe between Sparks and Queen, and has embarked on a $40 million buying spree to purchase all properties on that block, all the way over to O'Connor Street. It hopes the private sector will pay to develop the block, which would include a large office tower at the corner of Queen and O'Connor streets.

[...]Plans for an urban square on Metcalfe Street are among seven major developments on or close to Parliament Hill that the NCC is planning.

The others are:

  • Development of an entire city block on the south side of Sparks Street.
  • Development of LeBreton Flats, just west of Parliament Hill, to include parkland, public buildings and attractions, businesses and houses.
  • Development of Victoria and Chaudiere islands in the Ottawa River, near Parliament Hill, to include an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island.
  • Creation of a park on what is now an industrial site on the Hull waterfront, directly opposite the Parliament Buildings.
  • Construction of a lookout on Parliament Hill over the Ottawa River, and putting in steps or a cable car to provide river access.
  • Construction of a new road linking Ottawa with Gatineau Park, via the Alexandra Bridge.

Together, these projects are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, shared by government and the private sector.

Citizen: The NCC's 'significant world capital' [2 Mar 2000]