ONEdmonton Downtown Vibrancy Task Force letter to City Council regarding the Proposed Downtown Edmonton Arena and Entertainment District

ONEdmonton is a group of local leaders that have come together a few times over the last year to discuss how we can make Edmonton one of the world’s top 5 mid-size cities. The first subcommittee, called the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force, was launched in November after the larger group identified that our urban core is the top priority. I have been fortunate enough to be part of both groups.

Today, our task force sent a letter to City Council regarding the proposed Downtown Arena and Entertainment District:

The task force is a group of majority, not consensus. At the last meeting, the majority of the task force members voted the arena project as the top near-term priority in Edmonton’s downtown.

The task force members include: Chairperson Randy Ferguson (Procura), Bob Black (Katz Group), Dr. Paul Byrne (MacEwan), Carolyn Campbell (University of Alberta), Michael Janz (Public School Trustee, EFCL), Terry Kilburn (Avison Young), Bernie Kollman (IBM Canada), David Majeski (RBC), Mack Male, Doug McConnell (Dialog), Scott McKeen, Honourable Anne McLellan (Bennett Jones), Carol Neuman (Edmonton Next Gen), Simon O’Byrne (Stantec), Ian O’Donnell (Downtown Edmonton Community League) Keith Shillington (Stantec), Paul Verhesen (Clark Builders), Sheila Weatherill (EPCOR), Richard Wong (Sutton Place Hotel), and Ralph Young (Melcor). Representatives from EEDC facilitate the task force.

I don’t think anyone on the task force considers the arena project a done deal, nor do they think the issue is a simple one, and this is reflected in the letter. My read of what the task force is saying here is this: there’s potential with the arena project to positively impact our urban core, so let’s keep things moving and figure out how to make that happen.

UPDATE: I originally left out Ian O’Donnell and Sheila Weatherill, because they joined us after the first meeting. My mistake. EEDC has posted the list here.

23 thoughts on “ONEdmonton Downtown Vibrancy Task Force letter to City Council regarding the Proposed Downtown Edmonton Arena and Entertainment District

  1. Well, come on now. I don’t disagree with the letter, since I don’t know enough about the plan to disagree, but just look at those members. How else could they possibly vote, as a majority?

    Nothing against the group, and I’m glad all of these fine citizens are taking the time to be involved in the community, (more that I can say for myself) but this group would never vote against a huge expansion/development project that is sure to put money in the pockets of many of the board members.

    I suspect there were some pretty heated discussions, judging by the full member list, but the general slant of the members is pretty obvious to me. Procura, Katz, MacEwan, Avison Young, RBC, Stantec, Clark Builders, Sutton Place Hotel, Melcor and EEDC are all focused, nearly exclusively (IMHO), on rhetoric like “economic development”, “sustained prosperity ” and “building a strong downtown core” .. etc. etc.

    What other possible outcome could there be from such a group? Really… It’s just too obvious is all I’m saying. Like, if we were to get 30 scientist together in a room, the majority will probably say that evolution is real. (and I would agree) … But isn’t that just a bit obvious? Scientists believe in evolution, and business people believe in making profits. No need to ask them, really.

    Ok, I have too much time on my hands. Back to work for me. =)

    1. I think you’re right – the outcome is not surprising. I do believe that everyone in the room is putting Edmonton’s downtown first, however. If they support the arena, it’s because they truly believe it’ll positively impact our urban core, and thus our city.

  2. More old rich white guys trying to tell us that buying a multi-billionaire a free arena for his multi-millionaire employees to play in is a good idea. Perhaps these guys should put their own hands in their own pockets to pay for it if it’s such a good idea. At the rate Katz and his buddy mandel are goging, we’ll be so poor from paying the city’s ever-increasing debt that we won’t be albe to afford to go to an Oilers game. Oh wait, most of the city taxpayers already can’t afford some of the NHL’s msot expensive tickets. This is a very bad idea. If these geezers had any concern for the city at all, they’d be more interested in getting good roads, fewer tax-cameras and better transit. But those really aren’t concerns for the rich, are they?

  3. And as anyone who has ventured into Deadmonton after dark knows, nothing will make it vibrant until the drunks, bums and muggers have somewhere else to go. maybe isntead of giving our hard-earned tax dollars to a billionaire, the city shoudl consider improving services to the poor, the mentall ill, the homeless and the thousands of transients who get off the Grehound bus and don’t move more than a kilometre away.

    1. I think the best way to solve the crime and urban blight issues facing downtown is to get more people living downtown. I don’t think the arena by itself will do that, but it might act as catalyst for other development.

  4. I realize this is not the main issue of the post, and I apologize for going off-topic, but only 3 (maybe 4) women on a task force of 17 “Edmonton leaders”?

    I call that disappointing.

  5. Mack,

    Thanks for posting this. The letter doesn’t really get into specifics about why the committee supports a downtown arena (beyond terms like “game changer”). Can you share some of the more specific points that were discussed?

    1. I don’t have minutes or anything like that, so I am not sure how specific I can be (I might be able to get some from EEDC). Our discussions have been just that – people thinking aloud, asking questions, making comments, etc. Even the “vote” on this issue was a really informal show of hands.

      We did discuss the role an arena could play in making Edmonton’s downtown a more attractive place to do business. Bob Black and others talked about some of the things that have to happen before we can get into more detail (the rezoning being one of them).

      We also talked about a variety of other downtown projects, such as Capital Boulevard, the Norquest and MacEwan expansions, The Quarters, the Legislative Grounds redevelopment, Shaw Conference Centre expansion, etc.

      I hope that helps, but let me know if you have other questions and I’ll do my best to respond.

  6. Thank for posting this Mack.

    I consider myself fairly plugged in to what is happening in Edmonton, but today is the first time I had heard about this ONEdmonton group (when I heard that they were holding an invite only forum on Economic Diversification). What is ONEdmonton’s mandate and how were the committee members selected? I agree with the comment about the lack of women listed on the committee. At first glance, it looks like a list of the usual suspects who are already supporting the proposed Katz Arena District.

    I would be interested to know what kind of debate and discussion happened around this letter by the committee members.

    1. I have blogged and tweeted about the group before!

      I was invited by EEDC to join ONEdmonton early last year. I suspect the others were as well. They have continually added people as well, so if you’d like to be involved, I think we can make that happen.

      Members of the larger group were asked if they wanted to join the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force. The names above are the people who agreed to take on the extra responsibility. I believe the intention is to have similar task forces for other issues as ONEdmonton evolves.

      Here’s an excerpt from an email sent to the group early last year:

      “As we explained at the ONEdmonton session, there seems to be a consensus building within the community that Edmonton has the potential to become one of the world’s leading mid-sized cities. However, most also feel that potential will only be realized if we can develop a common vision of what we want Edmonton to become, and develop a collective understanding of what are the key issues that need to be addressed and what our priorities need to be. That is the reason we have established ONEdmonton – to create a forum where our community’s leaders can meet together to create that vision and that collective understanding of issues and priorities.”

      1. I’m totally sounding bitchy today, but how can this group possibly “develop a common vision of what we want Edmonton to become” if it’s a by-invitation-only group?

        And if the group works by majority rule rather than consensus, that “common vision” seems to only reflect a very select group’s vision.

        So frustrating!

      2. Note the “majority rather than consensus” applies to the task force, not the larger group.

        I don’t know how EEDC decided to invite the people they did. I can tell you it is a very diverse group of people though. I’ll see what I can do about getting/sharing more information.

  7. Mack, I’m curious if you considered how such a letter would be perceived by others given the appearance of a serious conflict of interest. I would have thought that Mr. Black and the representatives from Stantec would have recused themselves from anything related to the arena given their close involvement and vested interest in the project going forward. I support a downtown arena and I’m sure the intention of the letter you posted is to improve the core, but the optics of this are terrible in my opinion.

    1. It wasn’t really discussed in relation to the letter, I think because the group had already briefly addressed the issue of “conflict of interest”. It’s difficult to get knowledgeable people at the table who don’t have some kind of conflict. When we come together, the top priority is Edmonton’s downtown, everything else comes second – that is the understanding among the task force members. Having people with an interest in downtown probably makes it more likely that they’ll make decisions that are good for downtown.

      The letter is meant for City Council. They receive correspondence on issues from parties with a vested interest all the time. I only posted it here in the interest of transparency, and to gather feedback.

      I will mention that Bob Black did not suggest the arena be the top priority – others in the group did. No doubt he agreed with that, and may have had a certain amount of influence through discussions outside the group, but that is to be expected.

  8. To those complaining about ONEdmonton, what’s stopping you from organizing your own anti-arena group full of influential and respected Edmontonians and providing city council with a document that expresses your thoughts and views?

    1. “To those complaining about ONEdmonton, what’s stopping you from organizing your own anti-arena group full of influential and respected Edmontonians and providing city council with a document that expresses your thoughts and views?”

      Nothing. But the EEDC isn’t an independent organization. It’s a non-profit owned by the City of Edmonton. As ONEdmonton and the sub-committee fall under the EEDC, the questions about its mandate and membership are perfectly legitimate.

      The letter released today is more of same. No one should be shocked that Procura, Stantec, Melcor and the Katz Group want this project to go ahead. It’s in their best interest. I do agree with Paul in a broader sense, though. It’s time for those who are tired of this city being run by the same group of people to step forward and force a change.

    2. Paul, I actually support the downtown arena, but took issue when an organization labelling itself a “Task Force” of local leaders (which to me implies trust, integrity, and independence) appears to have questionable motives. If the Katz Group wants to promote a downtown arena it should do so under the name “Katz Group” rather than sending its employees and partners into the community to promote it under names like “Task Force.”

      Whether there was a true conflict of interest or not, the number of questions raised in the comments to Mack’s post show that there is at least the appearance of a conflict. In my opinion, that is reason enough for those with a vested interest in the arena project to remove themselves from groups such as ONEdmonton.

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