Through the surface parking lot, there are few downtowns across North America that do not bear witness to the legacy of the flight to the suburbs that occurred during the last half of the 20th century. As roads became wider and straighter, and one and two-car families became the norm, downtowns suffered as the suburbs prospered, often loosing buildings to nothing more than a patch of pavement where commuting workers could park their cars close to their jobs.

American cities were generally hit worse than Canadian ones, but the streetlife-killing surface parking lot has been a scourge to healthy urban form all over the continent. Changing times of late, however, have brought about a return of people to city cores, with Toronto being amongst the most transformed by new development. Just a few hundred kilometres to the east, Ottawa has had to deal with relatively less hollowing out, but it has had its own challenges and is experiencing its own central area renaissance now too.

The site, looking west, with Parliament Hill in the distance, base image retrieved from Google Maps

Just to the southeast of the Rideau Centre, the half a city block at Waller and Daly Streets has offered nothing more than a place to store cars for decades now, creating a disconnect between the Rideau Centre/ByWard Market area, and the University of Ottawa area to the southeast. It's not been an insurmountable issue for the city exactly, but the area has never felt quite right because of it either.

Now, this longtime wounded block is about to heal in spectacular fashion, as partners from Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto are all stepping up to the plate to offer an impressive, truly mixed-use development that should bring people to the site in droves and heal the local urban fabric, in one creative act. 

Concept plan for the Ottawa Arts Court Redevelopment, image by KPMB Architects

The block was once home to the Carleton County Courthouse and Ottawa's Police Headquarters. Years ago the police decamped a kilometre or so away when some of the block was needed for new roads that sprung from the Greber Plan of the 1950s, while the courthouse moved in 1986 to a more modern structure across the Rideau Canal. The police headquarters was torn down, but the 1870-built Italianate courthouse became Ottawa's Arts Court, refurbished in 1988 to accommodate 28 arts organizations, amongst them the Ottawa Art Gallery.

In the northwest-facing concept rendering above, it's the Ottawa Jail Hostel to the south of the Arts Court that you can see at the left, while dominating at the centre is a new home for the Ottawa Art Gallery, and a combined hotel, condo, and theatre centre rises on the right. All of that will replace the surface parking lot that followed in the wake of the torn-down police headquarters.

It was the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) that triggered the redevelopment. One of the smallest municipal art galleries in the country, the gallery is nevertheless home to of one of the most significant collections of art ever donated by private collectors to the Canadian public. The Firestone Collection covers the modern period of Canadian Art from 1900 to the 1980s and includes works by members of the Group of Seven, Quebec's Automatistes, the abstractionists Painters Eleven from Toronto, and the Regina Five, along with works by many independent painters. The Ottawa Art Gallery has never had enough space to display the works properly, and plans have been in the works for years to change that. With Canada's Sesquicentennial approaching quickly in 2017, Ottawa wants its Art Gallery moved into a larger home to be able to celebrate. 

To make an expansion of the gallery work, the City and OAG looked for partners to create a true mixed-use complex to spread the financial load while increasing the vitality on the block at the same time. To that end, the City found partners in the University of Ottawa who will build a new black box theatre and new classrooms for its Department of Theatre, and condominium developer DevMcGill of Montreal and hotelier Groupe Germain of Quebec City who are creating a round-the-clock component through a combined condominium and hotel tower. All of it is already under way and the lot, seen as of early October below, has already become an excavation site.

The excavation of the site is already well under way for the Ottawa Arts Court Redevelopment, image by Craig White

The 24/7 nature of condominiums and hotels is seen as an essential component in fully repairing the tear in the urban fabric here, and once complete, the development—which has a walkscore of 98 now—should propel the site into a walkscore of 100 just through its own multi-use nature. The site also boasts "paradise" ratings of 95 for cyclists because of the extensive trail system nearby, and 92 for transit riders. That score is also soon to jump closer to 100 as Ottawa completes its Confederation LRT line in 2018, with Rideau station being a short walk from here.

Looking south across Daly Street to the Art Court Redevelopment, image by Regis Côté

So, what's getting built? Canada-wide builder ebc inc. of Quebec is working to LEED Silver-targeted plans by Architects Regis Côté et Associés of Quebec, partnering with KPMB Architects of Toronto and Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. of Ottawa. The gallery will connect with the existing Arts Court building immediately to the west, and will allow a reshuffling of space within it, improving the spaces for the other arts organizations when the OAG moves into the new section.

Ottawa Art Gallery Lobby, image by KPMB Architects

The current footprint of the Arts Court building is 1,327 square metres, with the addition covering 2,758 square metres, effectively tripling its size on the ground. The Le Germain Hotel will extend up to the 14th floor of a 23-storey, 74-metre high tower at the northeast corner of the site, with the top 9 floors featuring just under 100 suites of Arthaus Residences. The luxury condominium development by respected Montreal developer DevMcGill will boast interiors by Toronto interior design firm U31 (recently rebranded from Union31), while the view from the modern suites will variously take in the Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills.

Looking southwest to Arthaus Residences and the Art Court Redevelopment, image by Regis Côté

The hotel, the art gallery, the condominium, the theatre department are all targeted for completion in 2017. For information on any of them, you can click on the various hyperlinks in the article. Registrations for the condominium are now being taken at this site. TradeUp Real Estate of Toronto and Ottawa are handling sales.

If you want to know more about the development, you can visit our dataBase file for the project, linked below. If you would like to comment on it, you can click on the associated thread link which will take you to our sister Forum at, or you can always leave a comment in the space provided on this page.