Last night the Katz Group hosted an “off the record” meeting downtown to talk about the proposed Edmonton Arena District with “nextgeners”. Most of the nearly 60 people in attendance heard about the event through the Edmonton Next Gen’s weekly newsletter. Given that the last news update on their website was posted on July 23, I was curious to hear what Bob Black had to say.
Bob’s presentation lasted just under an hour, and was followed by a question and answer session. The newest piece of information to me was related to some concepts the Katz Group has come up with for street activations. The concepts are very much a work-in-progress, and will be shared more widely in the future after they are further developed.
- Much of the presentation was a recap. The district is 12 acres on the north side, 4 acres on the south side.
- The current plan is for the arena to be centered on the north side, surrounded by a practice rink, office towers, and other development. The south side could host a hotel and a condo building.
- As Bob walked through diagrams and concepts, he made sure to point out changes they have made based on feedback.
- “We believe our project can contribute significantly to putting Edmonton on a new foundation for business.”
- Bob called the July meeting with City Council “a watershed moment” in the history of the EAD project, because it gave them a process to follow.
- “We think there’s more opportunity for live entertainment in Edmonton, and we intend to put it into the district.” Bob described two additional live entertainment venues that would be part of the complex, in addition to the arena itself. He talked fondly about the old Sidetrack Cafe.
- “The project will be phased. To expect that all 16 acres be developed at once is not realistic.” In questions after the presentation, Bob confirmed that the arena would be built first, but couldn’t give specifics about the rest of the development.
- Bob talked about the seasons, and explained the idea of a sidewalk-arcade. In the summer, activity would spill onto the sidewalk. In the spring/fall, the arcade could have roll-down shades, and in the winter, it could even be heated.
- Bob also talked at length about the winter garden, perhaps the most controversial part of the proposed development thus far. He explained that it was created to solve a critical design issue – they don’t want to impair traffic on 104 Avenue, and they want to ensure the safety of patrons after large events. He mentioned the current “lemming” effect after hockey games, where large groups of people quickly “get the heck out of dodge.”
- The winter garden is intended to be a year-round gathering place, and the Katz Group clearly sees it as the centrepiece of the development. Bob called it the “statement piece” and said it could be Edmonton’s “postcard snapshot”.
- The winter garden would be roughly 1 acre in size, suspended 32 feet above 104 Avenue. Despite criticism that the winter garden moves pedestrian traffic off the street, Bob said that it “ties the arena into the downtown”.
- The presentation did touch on the Oilers and its finances. “The Oilers are the only team in the NHL that do not receive non-hockey revenues.”
- In response to a few questions about what the development would look like and how it would be funded, Bob said: “Until you have a project you can’t make the full investment required for architecture and costing.” He did spend some time explaining the CRL as well.
- Bob proactively tackled the notion that we could simply retrofit Rexall Place. He explained the expense that would be required, and pointed out that renovating Rexall wouldn’t allow the Katz Group to achieve its goals. “We’re looking to change the nature of entertainment in Edmonton.”
- In response to a question about what would happen to Rexall Place, Bob replied: “What happens to Rexall if the project goes ahead is not up to the Katz group.” He also pointed out that Northlands has not shown any desire to dialogue on the issue.
- Parking of course came up in the presentation. Bob’s slides showed that there are roughly 8470 parking spaces available within a 10 minute walk from the EAD, and roughly 5075 within a 5 minute walk. Bob said the current plan is to build between 1500 and 3000 parking stalls in the EAD.
- When asked about the Greyhound bus station and other surrounding development that might be considered “urban blight”, Bob said he has high hopes that Gene Dub will do something with the land when the bus station lease expires.
- When asked about sustainability, Bob said the vision is to be “absolutely green”.
- The very first question that was asked of Bob was what happens to the less fortunate who may be displaced by the development, or who simply can’t afford to access the facilities. Bob reiterated that some elements of the EAD are intended to be public gathering spaces, and did confirm that dialogue with agencies and other partners is ongoing, but said that “you can’t always reach every demographic.”
- Some of the projects Bob referenced as potential examples during his presentation include: Hudson Yards in New York, Rockefeller Center in New York, British Museum in London, BCE Place Galleria in Toronto (which is actually classified as public art by the City of Toronto), and Fulton Street Transit Centre in New York.
- Bob finished with his call to action, asking anyone with values similar to the Katz Group, to help. “We believe now is the time where Edmonton needs to be bold.”
The Katz Group has gotten a bit of a free ride in the media over the summer thanks to the City Centre Airport issue, but they’ve used that time to continue consultations with a wide range of individuals and organizations.
Check out the #yegarena hashtag on Twitter for updates.
I should point out that I did have permission to tweet and write about the event. I don’t think it was really meant to be off-the-record; the Katz Group just wanted the chance to chat without the media around. But of course, nextgeners like me are never far from an Internet-enabled device!