Government plans to redevelop historic lands opposite Parliament Hill

Strip of Wellington across from Parliament Hill once knowns as "Banker's Row". Photo: Tony Caldwell / Postmedia

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Blair Crawford

The most prestigious property in Canada is up for development and the federal government is asking architects from around the world to brainstorm ideas for the land known simply as “Block 2.”

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has launched an Architectural Design Competition for the site that it hopes will transform the current hodge podge of buildings “into an efficient and innovative complex that will meet the needs of a modern Parliament as well as the public.”

Situated directly in front of Parliament’s Centre Block and across Metcalfe Street from the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, Block 2 is 9,800 square metres of land bounded by Wellington, Metcalfe, Sparks and O’Connor streets. It’s home to 11 buildings, including the new Indigenous Peoples Space at 100 Wellington in the former U.S. Embassy building.

Many of the buildings are at or past the end of their useful lives, the PSPC notes. Two of them — the old embassy and the Bank of Nova Scotia building on Sparks — are classified as federal heritage buildings, while several others have a lower designation as recognized heritage buildings. Neither designation is a guarantee that a building can’t be gutted or even torn down.

The block also includes the vacant lot at the corner of Metcalfe and Wellington that was home to the prestigious Rideau Club until it burned in a spectacular fire in October 1979.

Its prime location makes the block the most significant real estate in the country, said David Jeanes, a former president of Heritage Ottawa, who has led walking tours of the block for nearly 20 years.

“It’s always been considered important,” Jeanes said. The Rideau Club was the unofficial “seat of power” — Sir John A. Macdonald was a member — and the rest of Wellington Street was known as “Bankers Row”, home the influential financiers of the young nation, he said.

“It’s why the Americans chose that location when they built their embassy there in 1931.”

The block is “a very mixed bag” of designs, but represents a “hall of fame of Canadian architects,” he said. “There’s a great opportunity to redevelop that block, but if they redevelop the whole of it they really need to incorporate the historic elements of it.”

The redesigned block will provide office space for MPs and senators and for the Library of Parliament. There will also be renovated retail space on Sparks Street, a fact that pleases Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street BIA.

“It’s exciting to see,” McHale said. “But the million-dollar question is, what is it going to look like?”

He’s pleased the government is treating the block as a whole and not doing the work piecemeal.  “Taking one building and renovating it, then taking the next building and renovating it — that can be very disruptive. Your cycle of construction just never ends,” he said. “Doing it all in one shot will be disruptive, but at least you get it over with.”

Companies interested in the project have until Feb. 21 to register. Those companies will be screened by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the ones left will be invited to submit more detailed proposals. Those submissions will be winnowed to a short list of six, which will submit advanced designs to a jury for consideration. No timeline or budget for the project has been announced.

Among the companies that have registered their interest are Estudio Lamela of Madrid, Pei Architects of New York, and B+H and HH Angus, both of Toronto.

The government recognizes the land is “undeniably significant to Canadians from coast to coast to coast” and the redevelopment will improve the visitor experience, accessibility and its environmental sustainability, said Cecely Roy, press secretary to Public Services and Procurement Canada Minister Anita Ananda. It will also ensure the development will “contribute to Ottawa’s growth as a modern  capital city.”

 

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