Does Mayor Watson think Melnyk should sell the Sens? ‘That’s up to Mr. Melnyk’

Mayor Jim Watson doesn’t have an opinion — not publicly, anyway — about whether or not Eugene Melnyk should sell the Ottawa Senators.

Former Senators captain and key-to-the-city recipient Daniel Alfredsson has reportedly talked with Watson about how much a new owner is needed for the hockey club.

Alfredsson, who made a big endorsement for Watson during the mayor’s re-election campaign kickoff event Sunday, made those comments to blogger and former Ottawa Sun columnist Susan Sherring. Since then, it’s been the talk of the hockey world, even getting airtime Monday night during the telecast of the Stanley Cup final.

Watson and city hall staff have been waiting to start discussions with the Senators-led RendezVous LeBreton Group on the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats. City officials need to insulate municipal taxpayers from major costs and also understand city hall’s responsibilities when it comes to new road networks, parks and other infrastructure that comes with a major development.

On Monday, when asked about Alfredsson’s remarks to Sherring, Watson’s office sent out a statement saying, “Mayor Watson will not comment on a private conversation in which he was not involved.”

On Tuesday, this newspaper asked Watson about the Alfredsson comments as the mayor attended a youth event at city hall.

So, does Watson think Melnyk should sell the Ottawa Senators?

“Well, that’s up to Mr. Melnyk,” Watson said. “I’m looking forward to working very hard over the next couple of months to ensure we get a deal that is a good deal for the city and for the team to see the arena brought downtown. I think the LeBreton proposal will be one of these once-in-a-generation opportunities for us to develop a site that has remained vacant for 50 years-plus. I’m very excited about what that’s going to do to help revitalize that important part of the downtown core.”

Watson, who has a non-voting seat on the National Capital Commission board of directors, said the city is close to finding some dates that work for the Senators to meet about the development. City staff and the hockey club hope to sit down in the next month or so, the mayor said.

Does Watson think Melnyk, as the head of the Senators organization, brings the best chance for LeBreton to be redeveloped?

“I don’t decide who owns the team or who runs the team,” the mayor said. “I deal with the ownership and it’s Eugene, and (team executive) Geoff Publow and others that we deal with on a fairly regular basis. I’m wearing two hats in this. I’m glad we’ve made the first step with the MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the NCC and now the ball is in our court to bring that process closer to the finish line.”

Alfredsson told Sherring he has discussed the ownership of the Senators with the mayor. Is that true?

“I have a lot of conversations with a lot of people and I don’t obviously divulge those conversations,” Watson said. “I really was very proud and honoured to have Alfie at my kickoff and have his support. I think he’s probably the most popular person in the city and I was really touched by his nice comments. I look forward to continuing my relationship with Daniel and I think, as I said at my rally, I am always humbled when I’m in his presence because everyone’s handing me their camera to take their picture of them and Alfie.”

But will Alfredsson’s comments hurt the mayor’s relationship with Melnyk?

“I don’t think so,” Watson said. “I have a relationship with many members of his organization and with him himself. I just got a nice email from him a week or so ago and we’re continuing to make progress on the LeBreton file. To me, the bigger issue is we’ve got to get a deal so the arena is built downtown. That is a key priority for us because we have invested in two LRT stations at LeBreton Flats. I recognize he’s had a tough time filling seats and one of the reasons is the CTC (Canadian Tire Centre) is very much isolated from residential developments. There’s not a lot of people that will go at the last minute and be a walk-up customer. I’m still very much committed to working with Eugene and the team and landing a very exciting project for the people of Ottawa.”

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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