Edmonton’s Downtown Arena on the precipice

Today is another big day for Edmonton’s downtown arena project. City Council will be meeting this afternoon to once again discuss the project, with a particular focus on the outcome of this week’s meetings in New York with Gary Bettman.

My sense is that the project is in danger. And I’m still trying to understand how we got here.

I used to think the arena was basically a done deal. It seemed like all of the right pieces were in place. The arena was listed as one of the catalyst projects in the Capital City Downtown Plan and that document was successfully approved. Edmontonians got engaged at public meetings and open houses. The City embarked on a high profile public consultation process. The Katz Group met with anyone who would listen (and they continue to). Council had questions and they got answers. Surveys showed significant support for the project, up from previous surveys. Organizations started becoming more vocal about their support, with letters from the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force and Yes 4 Edmonton. In May, the “agreement framework” was approved. In August, the Downtown CRL concept came forward and seemed to be well-received. The latest stats on calls to 311 suggest that more people support the project than oppose it.

Certainly there have been challenges along the way, but it seemed to me that most of those challenges were related to the details. For a while now it has felt like the arena was going to be built, it was just a matter of how and when.

But now? Well, it doesn’t look so good anymore.

The meetings in New York were taken by many to be a sign that negotiations between the City and the Katz Group were about to go off the rails. Mayor Mandel hasn’t been his usual optimistic self lately either. Two new websites launched this week to try to push the project forward, Heart of the Capital and Build the Arena. And my preliminary analysis of tweets about the arena shows that lately, the majority of tweets are about supporting the arena rather than opposing it. Edmontonians seem worried. The October 31 deadline is inching ever closer, but it feels like we’re getting further and further away from the goal line for this project.

Tweets about the arena in Edmonton for the first twelve days of October

I share the Katz Group’s growing impatience, even if I don’t agree with the way they have gone about things. I don’t envy Council’s position, but I’m confident they’ll make a decision that is in the best interests of the city (though likely not today). At this point, I just want some certainty. If we’re going to build the arena, great, let’s do everything we can to ensure it is a success. If we’re not going to move ahead with the project, fine, let’s refocus and get back to work.

For a decent overview of where we’re at, check out the Journal’s summary. You can follow this afternoon’s discussion on Twitter, or you can connect to City Council’s streaming audio and video. If you want to voice your opinion on the deal one way or the other, the number one thing you can do is email your City Councillor.

5 thoughts on “Edmonton’s Downtown Arena on the precipice

  1. I’m certainly not as close to the process as you are, but my gut feeling still tells me this project is going to happen, though I suspect it could get messy before it does.

    When I think of Katz as a business man I remember how aggressive he was in acquiring the Oilers. He gets what he wants, eventually, and I think if pushed he’ll throw more money on the table to do it.

    1. Well the Katz Group has certainly be leading the process, not City Council. Having said that, it seems like there have been plenty of opportunities for Katz to throw in more money if he was really prepared to do so.

  2. It’s really disappointing to see a group of Edmonton businessmen create a non-profit organization for the purpose of drawing funds away from existing community organizations and putting them towards media campaigns to pressure city council. None of the businesses that “unconditionally” support the arena have provided funding for building it? I’d be happier with promisary notes for the exact amount of funds these businesses are providing than websites designed to take available donations out of the community.

  3. Mack, there is a reason why the arena is attracting so much debate and controversy. I’d like to add my two cents to the discussion, this is strictly my opinion, and how I see it.

    I lived in London for a long time. I support Arsenal FC who have recently built a huge stadium in the city. Frankly, even though Arsenal are probably generating a huge amount of income, along with revitalising that area of London, if they had gone to the City of London and asked them to pay a significant chunk of money, they would have been laughed out of the council. Arsenal FC are a private company, and they ended up using bank funding and other sources of income to build their stadium. Its chucked them into debt, but they are still a flourishing club.

    Now I see a similar situation here in Edmonton. However, the way I see it, a billionaire businessman is holding the city hostage, with its hockey team as bait. As a taxpayer, it makes me deeply uncomfortable to see a chunk of taxes going to pay for an arena for a hockey team. If the Katz group were so intent on building an arena, then yeah they should go ahead. Perhaps the City can donate a significant chunk of real estate to them, to even it up a bit. But to pay the cost they are thinking of paying to build the arena, the profits of which are not going back to the city is foolishness in the extreme. I am not against the arena. But I sure as hell highly uncomfortable with the city paying for it.

    Sure, its going to revitalise downtown. Awesome. What’s in it for me? Oh, the downtown’s going to be revitalised. Hey, that’s brilliant, so how is that going to affect me? These are the questions Edmontonians are going to ask, and rightly so. Sure, a thriving downtown is brilliant for a city. But lets face it, Edmonton is a sprawl. And there are always going to be pockets of life like Whyte Ave and 104 St. So while revitalizing the rest of downtown is a priority, but there’s got to be other ways to do it, without spending a huge chunk of pocket change. I could also ask why, despite the presence of Rexall place, has that area not been revitalized? Why do I still not feel safe attending a concert by myself around there?

    Does Katz really mean to move the Oilers out of the city? And why is the city caving in to him, if he is? We are in the middle of a huge recession, that, if I see it, is going to hurt the average person more than the billionaires. I already see a difference in my property tax, in fact, its going to rise because of the neighbourhood revitalization programme (which imo, is a far better use of the money) See, as a fairly lower middle class family, a change in tax from $235 per month to $250 a month is already hurting us. Throw in the fact that we are concerned about education, savings, retirement, and basically keeping afloat… you can see why I, as a concerned Edmontonian, am hugely skeptical about the city paying for an arena which is a vanity, rather than a necessity. I would rather the Royal Alberta Museum be built and enjoyed, something everyone can do, instead of an elite rich few who can afford a hockey ticket.

    Maybe I am not looking at the bigger picture. Maybe I am being a suburban idiot. But as a newcomer to the city, who intends to make Edmonton my home, I am looking for a city that is responsible with its money, and not one that thinks that paying for a facility of which the profits go to a private individual is a good idea. That, frankly, scares the shite out of me!

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