Last night was the first of four City-hosted public consultation sessions on the proposed downtown arena. The sessions aim to gather input that will be provided to City Council. Roughly 150 people visited the Robbins Health Learning Centre throughout the evening, though only about a third of those stayed for the facilitated part of the session.
The first two hours of the session followed an open house format, with information displays, handouts such as a backgrounder (PDF), City officials available to answer questions, and opportunities for individuals to write questions or comments on sticky notes or in drop boxes. Promptly at 7pm, Margaret Bateman made a brief presentation (PDF) on the consultation process. The next two hours were facilitated discussion groups, where everyone had the opportunity to provide specific feedback on five key questions. Here are the questions as they were presented this evening:
- What’s your position on building a downtown arena?
- If supportive, why?
- If not, why not?
- If conditional, why?
- If a new downtown arena project were to proceed, what do you think is important to consider in terms of:
- Downtown connection and impact?
- Impact on surrounding communities?
- Community benefits/engagement?
- Impact on the future of Rexall Place?
- Any other issues?
- What about using a mix of private and public funding to fund a downtown arena?
- Are you open to this? Why?
- Not open to this? Why not?
- Open under certain circumstances or conditions? If so, what are they?
- What do you think about other possible funding sources to cover arena costs? (some or all of these are options)
- A ticket tax
- A personal seat license or luxury box license
- A community revitalization levy (which would require the facility be publicly owned)
- Funding for non-arena infrastructure from other levels of government
- Additional private investment
- Any other sources?
- Do you have any final thoughts or views for Council?
I attended a “stakeholder” consultation last Thursday that followed a similar format, but asked slightly different questions. The first question in that session was: “Do you support building an arena to revitalize Edmonton’s downtown? If yes, why? If no, why not?” Talk about a leading question with a big assumption! Needless to say I was very pleased to see that the City (along with consultation partner Calder Bateman) had tweaked the questions this time around.
My discussion group started off fine, but quickly descended into disagreement as a few very vocal members wanted to skip to the funding question right away. The City officials on hand handled the situation very well, and before long our group was back on track generating some useful discussion (the other groups didn’t seem to have any issues). Here are some of the comments from the group that I wrote down:
- Unclear that the arena would actually bring people downtown
- The arena will not generate tourism
- Skepticism about an influx of commercial development surrounding the arena
- Transit would need to be greatly improved, concern about the lack of an LRT stop right at the arena
- What would happen to Rexall Place?
- General feeling we would lose Canadian Finals Rodeo and maybe other events
- Lots of concern over traffic congestion, some concern over parking
- Feeling that the current ticket prices are already too high
- Quite a bit of skepticism about the effectiveness of a CRL
- Thought that spending the money on existing recreation centres would result in higher benefit to the community
As far as I could tell, my group was the most negative about the arena. The others seemed cautiously optimistic, and when everyone came together at the end of the evening for Margaret Bateman’s recap, that seemed to be the consensus. There was concern over treating the arena as the key to revitalizing downtown, and there was obviously lots of concern over the funding model, but there also seemed to be some optimism that the project could be a very good thing.
There are three more public consultation sessions currently planned:
- Wednesday, November 10 – 5pm at the Santa Maria Goretti Centre
- Monday, November 15 – 5pm at the Robbins Health Learning Centre
- Wednesday, November 17 – 5pm at the Robbins Health Learning Centre
Whether you’re for or against the arena, or even if you’re unsure, it’s important to make your voice heard!