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NCC ‘open to anything’ for O’Brien House

March 4th,2024 | News

The NCC is currently seeking proposals for a new tenant to operate the historic O’Brien House in Gatineau Park. The price tag to lease the building is $144,000 per year. Photo courtesy NCC

Want to turn O’Brien House into a wellness retreat? Or a sugar shack? The NCC says it’s open to just about anything. 

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is looking for a new tenant for O’Brien House in Gatineau Park, and while the organization says they are “open to pretty much anything,” they are really hoping for a boutique hotel, restaurant or both. 

“We’re not necessarily looking for a hotel and a restaurant, but we think that those are probably the best fits,” said Bill Leonard, the NCC’s real estate and development vice president. “So, if someone only wants to open a restaurant or only wants to operate the restaurant side, we could do a multi-tenant experience here, too. We’re really trying to throw it open, so if someone has a creative idea in terms of a different use, we are open to that too – the fundamental being that we want it open to the public.”

In 2016, Bob Milling, the owner of the Wakefield Mill, signed a five-year lease to operate a boutique hotel out of the historic building and opened it in April of 2018 after extensive renovations, paid for in part by Milling and the NCC. The total renovation amount was $3.9 million, according to the NCC. But things didn’t work out, with Milling telling the Low Down in 2019 that the boutique hotel model was not “economically sustainable.” He pivoted to run the house as an events-based business for weddings, private functions and retreats, but the NCC and Milling were at odds over the business model. 

“It was really a philosophical difference in terms of how to operate it,” said Leonard. “And so that’s basically what led to them not operating anymore.” 

Milling declined to comment for this story. 

O’Brien house was listed for lease again in 2019, but then the pandemic hit and while the NCC did receive a lot of interest in the property, nobody was willing to take the risk of trying to find staff during such an unpredictable time. 

“We had lots of people kicking the tires but no one willing to pull the trigger,” said Leonard. “It was a really tough time to find any tenants at that point. Now we’re finding that things seem to be on the bounce back, and we have a significant amount of interest in the building.”

Leonard added that there is also a three-bedroom house that can be added to the lease as a “caretaker home,” which gives a tenant more stability to house employees in the region. 

“We want someone that loves the property as much as we do and wants to show it off,” added Leonard.

According to the NCC’s request for proposals, annual market rent of the O’Brien House is $144,000. The caretaker property can be leased for an extra $2,450 per month, plus property taxes estimated at just over $6,000 for the year and is subject to annual municipal increases.  O’Brien House was built in 1930 for Renfrew, Ont. businessman Ambrose O’Brien, who founded the National Hockey Association, the predecessor of the NHL, and was a founding owner of the Montreal Canadiens. The NCC bought the house in 1964 as part of an ongoing program to expand federally owned land in Gatineau Park.

For more information on the lease or to apply, visit https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/ 

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