Melnyk optimistic negotiations with NCC on new arena will be completed by year-end

Eugene Melnyk is hopeful negotiations with the National Capital Commission on the development of Lebreton Flats will be completed before the end of the year, and he has repeated that getting a downtown arena is paramount.

The Senators owner, speaking on Hockey Central at Noon on Wednesday, chose his words carefully but indicated talks with the NCC are ongoing and he’s optimistic they will be able to get everything in place to begin building the new arena at the location just west of the downtown core.

“We have to be respectful of the process so I’ve got to be careful,” Melnyk said in the interview. “But I’m hoping that this is negotiated throughout this year and completed this year. It’s got to be, and then we move to a very rapid process of getting approvals and building. It’s going to be gorgeous.”

Melnyk said when he bought the team out of bankruptcy in 2003, he couldn’t do anything about the Canadian Tire Centre being in Kanata.

“I think there’s only three teams left in the NHL that don’t have a downtown arena, and we’re one of them and it’s tragic that we don’t,” Melnyk said. “I bought the team out of bankruptcy and that’s where the arena was, and that’s what I bought.

“But we need to move things downtown, if it’s Ottawa it’s got to be downtown.”

Melnyk wouldn’t blame the attendance struggles early in the season on the location of the rink, though.

“The early part of the season, we had a bizarre schedule that somebody dropped the ball on — not at the NHL, at our place — that didn’t notice that we had (a lot of games) in November,” said Melnyk. “People get fatigue and there’s only so many games you can go to. Now, we’re selling out.

“We’re doing well now. It was that early part (of the season) when I saw empty seats I was about to throw up.”

Melnyk said the Ottawa market has changed.

“It’s all relative. The idea was a good idea but things change,” said Melnyk. “The problem is where the heck it is. People who know the suburbs of Ottawa, this is out there, a solid 30-minute drive from downtown, and that’s without a lot of traffic. It’s not easy.

“People say Toronto isn’t easy to get to either, but you have public transit. In this case, the downtown stadium will have light rail going to two stops right on the site. That will make it so much easier. For us, I really believe it’s location, location, location. It’s tough when you start comparing it to getting a cheap (case of beer) and kicking back with your friends. You’re fighting that battle, versus driving 45 minutes and then driving back 45 minutes.”

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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