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Building boom reshapes Ottawa

In a still recession-beset Canada, the national capital is booming, opening the $250 million Rideau Center convention-shopping-hotel complex at the edge of Parliament Hill, as well as planning and building high-rises and museums downtown.

The total spending rises toward $600 million in the central core, which serves some 600,000 people in the interlocking regional municipalities stretching for 18 miles along both the Ontario and Quebec sides of the long, swift, and picturesque Ottawa River.

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Severe shifts had occurred in the downtown. In the 1970s, thousands of civil servants had their offices moved from central Ottawa to new high office buildings in Hull, Quebec, on the river bank directly opposite.

The federal presence was thus anchored even more firmly in French Canada.

The office space left behind has only recently been filled again, and there is now a demand for more.

The eastern deteriorating downtown shopping fringe had been losing out to the tree-, flower-, and musician-filled Sparks Street Mall, one block south of the Parliament buildings. Business also had grown in the suburban shopping centers.

The new Rideau Center and its 220 stores are intended to encourage this trend.

Not only are there the $105 million enclosed malls of the smaller specialized shops and restaurants, but there is a new T. Eaton Company department store, which is part of the national chain of department stores operated by the Eaton family of Toronto.

Two enclosed pedestrian bridges cross the main artery, Rideau Street, to take shoppers to the much-enlarged Hudson Bay Company store, a part of the historic chain of Canadian stores and northern trading posts.

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A three-story addition ties in the existing employee-owned Charles Ogilvy department store.

Shoppers can walk indoors for four full blocks, and emerge on the outdoor Byward Market filled for more blocks with stalls and wagons of garden produce, flowers, and shrubs.

The 20-story, 550-room Westin Hotel offers a striking architectural similarity to the nearby National Defense Military Headquarters. On the skyline, the Westin Hotel and the defense headquarters look like two bookends waiting for millions of words to come in volumes from the convention center directly beneath.

What Rideau Center seems to seek is to show change in a state and cultural neighborhood of great history. It is a very considerable modification of the almost Rube Goldberg-like Pompidou Center in Paris. But then the Pompidou Center is many blocks from the French National Assembly and the Louvre. Rideau Center is in direct line with, and very close to, the Parliament buildings. Rideau Center also is close to Canada's National Gallery, which will move in several years to a high point overlooking the Ottawa River. The National Museum of Man will move to Hull, again recognizing French Canada.

The Rideau Center project required the participation and cooperation of a corporation owned by the Eaton Company, J.J. Barnike real estate of Toronto, and Citicom Inc. of Toronto; the Canadian Government; the provincial government of Ontario; the National Capital Commission; the regional municipality of Ottawa-Carleton; the City of Ottawa, and the Westin hotel chain.

Rideau Center's Westin Hotel and three-story convention center, the largest room of which can seat 5,000, will open next fall.

Some of the new office space is in the old National Capital Commission Building, gutted and rebuilt inside, but retaining its historic facade.

The sidewalks along Rideau Street are being enclosed with glass, the sides of which will be removable in summer.

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