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.
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.