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.

17 thoughts on “Green light given for Rogers Place, Edmonton’s new downtown arena

  1. notice how the 480M stay’d the same but the overall GMP rose from 604M to 606.5 sum $2.5 million cost increase in just a short few weeks. , Read the fine print they left a loophole ‘ The contractors will cover any price hikes unless the increase is the result of changes requested by Oilers owner Daryl Katz ‘ add to that he don’t need approval by the city to move ahead on the budgeting. This announcement meant very little IMO. I welcome anyone to change my mind but it seems very shady.

  2. Mr Male, you really need to stop the Kvetching about the deal. Take your own advice and move past the subject please. This Opinion piece you have written comes off as whiny.

    1. I don’t think it is inappropriate to wonder why, when they had a large and captive audience, they chose not to share any information on the new building. No slideshow, no details, nothing beyond throwaway “it’ll be great” comments. Would be a lot easier to move forward if there was something to discuss/look forward to! It’s all so nebulous still, and we’re less than a month from shovels in the ground!

      1. exactly Mack they bring no substance and when people bring up concerns they rather attack ones character, say it’s all a C theory, tin foil hat etc… when people like me had questions years ago about the high rise tower, funding etc we were called liars. to be attacked. Keep up the good work Mack don’t let it be thrown under the rug you have legit concerns as we all do.

      2. http://photos.edmonton.ca/Major-Projects-Development/Downtown-Arena-Final-Designs/n-bZWB7/i-rfkpwLw

        Here is the slideshow you’re looking for, as linked directly from the City press release. This was available yesterday. In particular you can see long-awaited detail of the Winter Garden interior and underneath, the completely new-look Community Rink, the new location of the media production studio (under the Winter Garden instead of on the Southwest corner) and the word “EDMONTON” written hugely on 104 Avenue.

        Discussion?

      3. Yeah I saw that, thanks (I linked it at the bottom of my post). My point is that it would have been great to actually show those at the news conference and talk a bit about the designs and what to expect. To build some excitement for the building!

      4. I would guess you agree that in the current era, images on the internet can be quite competitive with a 5 minute aside in a 30 minute press conference.

        I also sense there is already more excitement over this project than any other since Phase III of West Edmonton Mall in 1985 (which I remember clearly). I’m hard pressed to think of another project as exciting in all of Western Canada in that span, frankly.

        Hopefully in that way it will also be a landmark in the pendulum swing back to urbanity being important in our region, but we will see.

      5. Questions are never a bad thing, Mack. There will likely be many more by the time the project is done, especially if it goes over budget.

  3. Community leagues are not “set up” by the City and do not need to serve as a public engagement go-to. It is a mistake that some leagues think they speak on behalf of their communities. That mistake usually leads to negative outcomes, since those who are members but don’t agree combine forces with the vast majority who aren’t members at all. Far better for a CL to be a force of information sharing and facilitating the voice of their constituencies reaching the decision makers. Your piece seems to imply that helping the city is all a CL is designed to do when that could not be further from the truth.

    1. I meant setup as in “it’s a setup!” rather than setup as in designed. I think community leagues are put into a difficult position as a result of the way the City does public engagement. Not that all community leagues are victims, but it’s difficult to simply be a force of information sharing as you suggest with the current approach.

  4. Mac, trust me or not, you’re losing your own well-deserved influence on this, just like AA did. Tell us how right you were in 20 years if you want, but you would really do yourself a favour to take the time off on this file until then.

    Other people actually do know something too.

      1. AA is another blogger, formerly prominent, but couldn’t get around what he’d been fed by certain political lobbyists on this issue and objectively consider the direct facts. I don’t want to say his name publicly, but if you want you can email me.

        I’m not saying this is your exact case, I’m just saying the debate was over in 2006, and all the answers were quite clear at that time. The endless repetition of concerns, decoys, and falsehoods that ensued in the anti-arena camp did nothing to change the facts of the matter. It became a very clear picture of a perfectly prudent investment for a City whose greatest weakness was its downtown. I get that it has been improving since 2006, but you haven’t acknowledged how much of the improvement has been attributable to the looming spectre of a best-in-world urban integrated arena, completely nullifying four entire blocks of empty gravel parking lots.

        In your case saying things like Katz looked uncomfortable or questioning why the DECL was present is beyond getting tiresome. Katz obviously isn’t accustomed to the spotlight for obvious reasons. The DECL were clearly important and influential in the process I would personally indicate them alone for the refreshing design of the Winter Garden underneath. Even I thought it didn’t need looking at, as undersides can work perfectly well without such attention, but I am thankful to them for their perseverance and very real fruits of their labour.

        This press conference may have seemed like a fait accompli, but this is a very real landmark in the process – the definitive end of 9 years of debate, the definitive beginning of the end of said four blocks of gravel surface parking lots, and the definitive beginning of said best-in-world urban integrated arena. It is the most important single landmark in the process since Katz bought the Oilers.

        I don’t frankly concern myself with long-term loss of NHL hockey or world class concerts and entertainment either, but you are definitely naive about what a short-term loss would have done to us. It would have eliminated the possibility of getting a 50-50 arena partner into the process whenever we did decide to re-enter the NHL set.

  5. My thoughts on your questions, Mack:

    1. Will the remaining government funding be confirmed?

    – One of the only things I could go on longer about than the arena is how the Provincial and Federal governments delight in short-changing Edmonton. See in order: Canadian Pacific Railway, Trans Canada Highway, Alberta Energy Utilities Board, Pacific Western Airlines, Petro Canada, and CBC Newsworld just to get started.

    – The CRL, yes, the municipalities grant, yes, the Federal contribution to the Community Rink seems likely too, but the provincial contribution to the community rink seems unlikely. I think that’s something like $3 million.

    2. What will happen to Rexall Place?

    – If I had my way, it would have a last hurrah co-hosting the World Championships in Figure Skating, Curling, Junior Hockey, Short Track Speed Skating, and perhaps Lacrosse. Then I would have it demolished, to make way for a transit oriented medium-density residential mixed with Avenue-front retail development which helps heal the gash in 118 Avenue, and pays more to Northlands than the Coliseum ever did. Then Northlands should use the proceeds to build a mixed-use mall-block right in front of the Expo Centre, also enlivening 118 Ave, and providing them with an LRT connected on-site hotel and some better food options for Expo Centre goers. The City for its part should invest in a sky-bridge from the LRT station to the Expo Centre as well.

    3. Dominoes?

    – I wouldn’t worry too much, things will look somewhat similar to the renderings we’ve seen. The Greyhound block has to wait until Greyhound leaves in 2016, and the second office tower is anybody’s guess, but the two hotels, the casino, the City office tower, the condo tower, the plaza and the combined retail podiums and underground parkades are not farfetched at all. Construction could be staggered as the City has suggested, but only due to labour shortage, not viability.

    4. Rexall Place extension?

    – Never in doubt. Not related to Richard Anderson’s departure. Anderson was disappointed to lose Northlands involvement in the new arena only.

    5. MacEwan involvement?

    – Announced long ago, as part of their bid to join the University hockey system. It will pay to bring the seating of the community rink up to 1,500 or 2,000 or something.

    By the way the Community Rink should be a tremendous shot in the arm for the figure skating community as well, with a central practice rink with continual foot-traffic, excellent transit access and neighbouring hospitality it will be ideal for raising a fanbase for the sport. The Community Rink truly merits its own applause, separate from the larger project.

  6. Have you ever considered that Katz gets very nervous? He sure seemed nervous to me. You could hear he had ‘drymouth’ when he spoke. You assume that his intentions are nefarious (‘just going through the motions’) but I would bet the reason he shuns the spotlight is much more simple and something that most people face, a fear of the spotlight and public speaking.

    1. Oh I think you’re probably right. I didn’t think he was being nefarious, just that he seemed forced into being there. Certainly the questions made it clear why a man like him would want to avoid news conferences!

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