Green light given for Rogers Place, Edmonton’s new downtown arena

Construction on Rogers Place, the future home of the Edmonton Oilers, will begin in March now that the $480 million guaranteed maximum price has been met. The announcement was made at a press conference today at City Hall that featured a rare public appearance by Daryl Katz.

Downtown Arena Press Conference

The new downtown arena will seat 18,641 for hockey games, and is being described as “the most technologically enabled sport facility in all of North America” (details on what that means are still to come, I presume). The arena is part of a $606.5 million package that includes a community rink, LRT connection, pedway, and the Winter Garden.

The stage today was backed with hockey boards while a face-off circle emblazoned with the Oilers logo sat in front. Giant renderings of the new building flanked each side. Mayor Don Iveson, City Manager Simon Farbrother, Daryl Katz, and Ian O’Donnell from the Downtown Community League (DECL) were the speakers.

Downtown Arena Press Conference

I have to say the press conference seemed a bit over the top for what was announced. It was very unlikely that the guaranteed maximum price wouldn’t be met, and even if it hadn’t been met, that would have been little more than a speed bump. Council would have voted, and construction would have gone ahead one way or another.

Very little that was announced today was new (would it have killed them to talk about the building, even just a little?). Most of the speeches consisted of the various parties involved thanking one another, and extolling how great the new arena will be for Edmonton. And we heard the same old arguments once again. City Manager Simon Farbrother said:

“With this announcement, we are able to announce two very significant goals for this city. The first one this does is helps us on that continued journey of building a great downtown. The second one it does is it supports NHL hockey in Edmonton for the very foreseeable future.”

Nevermind that downtown has been on the upswing for years and that the threat of losing the Oilers was misleading at best.

But those arguments are over and done with – today was about the future, as Daryl Katz said. I suppose his attendance was meant to suggest a sense of finality, but I’m not sure that came across. He certainly didn’t look like he wanted to be there. Sure, he expressed his relief at getting to this point and his thanks to all involved, but he looked and sounded to be going through the motions more than anything else.

Downtown Arena Press Conference

Why was DECL invited to participate? Maybe it was just to play the role of “downtown supporter” in the story. I hope it wasn’t to represent the members of the public that were apparently involved in the decision, because just two or three people on the board were involved. As someone who both lives and works downtown, I don’t feel that DECL represented me in the process (this is a great example of how community leagues are setup to promote “tick the box” public engagement).

But I guess that was the point of today’s event – the process is done, the arena will be built. I’m happy that we’ve reached this point and I do think the arena will have a positive impact on downtown. I have great respect for everyone who has gotten involved, whether it was to support to the project or whether it was to ask hard questions. There are still questions remaining too. Will the remaining government funding be confirmed? What will happen to Rexall Place?

One thing that’s clear is that the arena won’t succeed on its own. It needs a district surrounding it. In his remarks today, Daryl Katz made mention of that development, saying that we can expect to learn more this spring. I have heard the project described as a series of dominoes, with the new City tower following the arena, and more still to fall. I sure hope that’s the case.

Downtown Arena Press Conference

There were a couple of other interesting tidbits of news shared today:

  • Katz Group Executive VP John Karvellas confirmed that the Oilers have an agreement in place to continue playing at Rexall Place until the new facility opens in time for the 2016 season.
  • MacEwan University has come to the table and will be contributing $2 million to the community rink to “increase capacity and improve functionality”.

You can see more photos of the press conference here. The Oilers have audio and video of the press conference available here. The City has made renderings of Rogers Place available here.