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Ottawa swaps aging Congress Centre for a modern convention facility

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by Korky Koroluk

Plans to replace Ottawa’s 24-year-old Congress Centre with a modern convention facility, with three times the floor space have been given the green light.


Ottawa ready to build $159 million facility


Plans to replace Ottawa’s 24-year-old Congress Centre with a modern convention facility, with three times the floor space have been given the green light.

Such a facility would place the city firmly in the second tier of convention cities in Canada, said Jim Durrell, chairman of the centre’s board and a former Ottawa mayor.

It will be “the finest convention facility in Canada, offering a world-class meeting experience for its clients and stakeholders.”

The cost is expected to be about $159 million, with $50 million coming from both the federal and provincial governments, and $40 million from the city. The balance would be covered by a bank loan. Part of the provincial contribution is already in place. Negotiations for the rest of the cash are not yet complete.

The plan calls for the centre to close at the end of next August, with demolition to follow immediately. Construction of the replacement building would take 25 months, with an opening on April 1, 2011.

The new structure would have a footprint similar to the current building, although the centre’s board will ask that the adjacent Colonel By Drive be narrowed to two lanes from four. The building is directly across the Rideau Canal from the National Arts Centre. It is adjacent to a major hotel and a large regional shopping centre. Squeezed between the shopping centre and the canal, it’s what builders call a “tight site,” so both demolition and construction will be more difficult than on a larger, more open site.

The present building has only about 70,000 square feet of rental space, and centre president Patrick Kelly said it has had to turn away “2,564 events over the last five years because we simply were not big enough.”

The new facility, Durrell said, will have a minimum of 200,000 square feet, “including 100,000 square feet of continuous column-free space.”

“It will be the premier, first-class, one-of-a-kind facility in Canada.”

Even so, its size means it will not compete on the level of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, all of which can host events of 10,000 or so delegates. But with a relatively large convention space and 8,000 hotel rooms within a 15-minute walk, the new centre would be able to play host to conventions of 5,000 to 6,000 delegates.

The new building would be three storeys tall, with plenty of glass, open spaces and warm lighting. The top level would feature a large ballroom with a view of the nearby Parliament Buildings.

The plans have revived talk of a network of tunnels and covered walkways connecting many of Ottawa’s downtown landmarks. There could be a tunnel under the canal, for example, to link with the National Arts Centre and the government conference centre. From there, other tunnels would connect with the Chateau Laurier Hotel and Parliament Hill.

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