‘Ottawa’ Gatineau Council Approves new $79M Arena Complex; Home for Olympiques
Gatineau is finally getting a new home for the Olympiques, a $79-million complex with one big rink for the major junior team and three smaller rinks for community use.
After more than 10 years of debate in Gatineau on how to replace the aging Robert Guertin Arena, the city council accepted the deal with Vision Multisports Outaouais (VMSO) Wednesday.
The new arena, to be completed by the fall of 2020, will be just north of Maloney Boulevard, between Montée Paiement and Boulevard de la Cité. The land is currently vacant.
The $79-million bill is to be shared as follows: A maximum of $36.5 million paid by the city of Gatineau, plus $26 million by Quebec and $16 million paid by VMSO.
On top of that, city taxpayers will cover $25 million for a parking garage and for improvements to streets around the arena site.
“It’s an excellent project,” Mayor Maxime Pednead-Jobin said Wednesday. “We keep our Olympiques for at least 25 years” while capping the public expense and getting three rinks for community teams.
“There’s still work to be done, but I think it’s an important day on this very important file for all Gatineau — for hockey, for citizens, for taxpayers … Nothing can beat this project.”
He also defended the choice of site, which some have contrasted with Ottawa’s decision to move the Senators downtown.
“If we look at the (new) site, it’s incredible. Gatineau is 61 kilometres long. We cannot do everything in one square kilometre around City Hall. We have to look at other parts of the city… I think we scored today.”
There are still council members including Sylvie Goneau, who is running for mayor next fall, who want the new arena downtown in order to draw people to the centre of the city.
Goneau has two main objections. One is the site, which she says will draw people away from the city centre, and concentrate not only the Olympiques but dozens of community-level teams on a single location, including those from Hull and Aylmer neighbourhoods. She wants the city to come up with a comprehensive plan on what to do about its crumbling neighbourhood arenas.
But she also objects to the non-tendered nature of the project. Gatineau will need Quebec to pass a special bill to allow the arena currently known as the “future Guertin” to be built without calling tenders.
Across Canada there are some 20 cities building multi-pad arena “in the same format as what is proposed in Gatineau,” she said. “But all of them have done it with a bidding process, which Gatineau is not doing.”
There will be bids on different phases of construction, she said, but not on the overall choice of project. “This is one of the issues of contention right now around the council table.”
“What happened is that two organizations came up and said, ‘Yeah, we might be able to solve your issue,’ but from there the city should have gone out to bid, to give the opportunity to everybody to bid on the same project. But … we favoured one over the other and we started negotiating one-on-one, on that.”
Coun. Jocelyn Blondin called it a “super” project — but one that should be built on the site of the current Guertin arena. The Guertin was built in 1957 and has been refurbished a few times since.
But there was also a mood of relief for many councillors after the decade-plus of false starts and inaction on a permanent replacement. Coun. Gilles Carpentier said his constituents are “fed up with seeing city councils succeed each other without solving the problem.”
And Olympiques co-owner Alain Sear called the project “excellent,” adding: “The Olympiques completely support this. I don’t want to waste one second looking for another scenario. I want to devote all my energy to finalizing this one.”
The project is being advertised as a “zero-risk” proposition for the taxpayers. If there is a cost overrun, the memorandum of understanding says VMSO is to pay it all.
The new arena will seat 4,000 spectators and have parking for 1,560 cars — up from fewer than 900 parking spaces at the Guertin. As well, the Rapibus runs right past it.
The city also promises to pay $2.1 million to rent ice time at the smaller three rinks — a cost it says it will cover by closing older community rinks.
VMSO starts with a 25-year lease on the site, which can be extended at the city’s discretion.