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.

Proposed Downtown Arena: Response to Council’s Questions

Back in July, City Council asked questions of Administration, the Katz Group, and Northlands regarding the proposed downtown arena district. A lot of questions. Today, the responses to those questions are being made available in preparation for the December 10 meeting (read them here). Here are a few questions and answers that I have extracted.

Mayor Mandel asked Administration: How many parking stalls are in downtown Edmonton that are within 8-10 blocks of the new proposed arena site?

Data from a parking study prepared as a background report for the Capital City Downtown Plan (Capital City Downtown Plan) in 2008 and recent calculations indicate approximately 46,100 total parking stalls exist within a 10 block radius from the proposed arena site.  Of these, approximately 2,700 are on-street metered parking, 17,300 are off-street surface parking, and 26,100 are located within a parkade (i.e. structured parking).

Councillor Caterina asked Administration: Why was the 5th best location chosen rather than #1 – Jasper Avenue, #2 – Northlands, etc.?

The confidential HOK Study does not prioritize the proposed locations.  Rather, it identifies the essential components required to attract major sporting and entertainment events and identifies location issues and the criteria necessary for a successful facility development.  The proposed location for the district is a viable choice when factoring in the various criteria identified in the HOK Study, particularly related to the challenges/opportunities of land assembly.

Councillor Leibovici asked Administration: Can a condition of a CRL be a guaranteed revenue stream?  In other words if projected development does not occur as anticipated can the City require that the Katz Group provide a guarantee to cover debt servicing costs?

A risk assessment is part of the requirement for the CRL.  The CRL plan must identify expected and alternative funding sources in the event the development does not occur.  Alternative revenues to make up any shortfall in expected revenues from a CRL would be discussed as part of a negotiation with the Katz group.

Councillor Leibovici asked Administration: What are the projections for the Edmonton Convention Market? Part of the answer:

From Mike Fitzpatrick, VP & General Manager of the Shaw Convention Centre: The Shaw Conference Centre is routinely turning away convention business due to a lack of downtown convention space; when that happens these events are almost always forced to select another city.  In the nine months from January to September 2010 we have already turned away 13 future convention bookings.

Councillor Sohi asked Administration: Have discussions taken place with the Province regarding the CRL model?

Administration has had preliminary discussions with the province on the use of a CRL for arena development.

Councillor Anderson asked the Katz Group: Is the $100 m Katz dollars cash or land?

There are a number of ways to deliver $100m  in value, but we recognize that this will have to be done in a fashion that is acceptable to the City.

Councillor Iveson asked the Katz Group: Please explain exactly how a Location Agreement works from the Franchise perspective, including the contemplated duration of the agreement.

A location agreement would be a term of the lease pursuant to which the Oilers would play in the new building.  It would bind the Oilers to playing only in that building for the full term of the lease.  We are prepared to sign a long term lease in a new downtown arena that would bind the team to Edmonton for the  term of that lease.  We expect a term of 25 years or more.

Councillor Sloan asked the Katz Group: Forbes has shown consistently over the past 3 years that the Oiler net operating income is better than the Calgary Flames anywhere from $3 million to $10 million per year?

That is not accurate based on our information.

Councillor Sohi asked the Katz Group: Are two arenas viable in Edmonton?

No.

Councillor Thiele asked the Katz Group: If no new downtown arena district is built in Edmonton and the Oilers will not play in a renovated Rexall Place, where will they play?

Our singular focus is upon negotiating a mutually satisfactory agreement with the City of Edmonton that will facilitate the construction of a new downtown arena.  We are confident that this can be achieved.

The complete list of questions and answers is available here. At the December 10 meeting, Northlands will be giving a presentation, the questions and answers will be discussed, and Administration will be talking about the public consultation that took place.

The issue will come before Council again on January 17. You can see more information here.

A closer look at the City of Edmonton’s Downtown Arena Questionnaire

The City’s online questionnaire for the proposed downtown arena has received quite a lot of criticism, especially online. Twitter users have not been shy about calling it “leading” and questioning its intent. And that criticism has come up in face-to-face conversations I’ve had with people at arena consultation sessions and other events as well.

At the consultation sessions, officials have made it very clear that the questionnaire is meant simply to gather feedback, and is not intended to be a statistically valid survey. It feels like a survey though, so it’s no surprise that people treat it that way.

The introduction of the questionnaire reads:

This questionnaire is one of several methods being used to gather thoughts and concerns about a proposed downtown sports and entertainment facility. The feedback received will be provided to City Council to assist in their decision-making.

And it explicitly asks that you only fill it out once, though technically there’s nothing stopping you from filling it out dozens of times. There’s also no way to ensure that only people who live in Edmonton fill out the questionnaire.

Proposed Downtown Arena Consultation

I emailed the City with some questions on the survey, and they wrote back with detailed responses.

Was the questionnaire written by City staff? Calder Bateman staff?

A team worked on the online questionnaire. It was one of the early elements developed to support public input and was meant to be a quick and convenient way people could share their thoughts. It was never intended and not designed as a statistically valid, formal survey – but a technology-based tool for use by those who might not make the open houses in person. It means we will have a richer range of input to report on.

While other elements of the open house and discussion forums have evolved based on the input and suggestions we’ve received, we didn’t feel it appropriate to adjust the online questionnaire – so it has remained consistent with what was originally posted.

How many entries have you received to-date?

As of 4:00 p.m. Nov 9 we had 17,030 directly through the online questionnaire plus another 60 from those who called 311. We’re pleased with these results. It’s likely that people are seeing the online questionnaire as an option to attendance at the open house.

Any indication of how many received entries are duplicates?

No. At this point, we haven’t done an analysis on the questionnaire submissions. We really need to wait until the entire process concludes to get the full picture. There are a number of ways people are providing input including email, sticky notes, completion of the discussion feedback forms and the questionnaires. The inputs from all areas will be consolidated into the final report.

Are there any plans for a follow-up questionnaire later in the process?

There will be other opportunities for public involvement and input throughout the process, and another questionnaire might well be an option.

Are there any plans for a statistically valid survey?

We realize the online questionnaire only reflects the opinion of the people who complete it – it is not a representative analysis of what the population of Edmonton might think. The City will be very clear when presenting the results to ensure they are not considered a statistically valid sample of opinion.

A statistically valid survey continues to be a possibility. Our focus right now is on the current suite of public involvement opportunities.

I also asked my colleague Greg Pope, Analytics & Psychometrics Manager for Questionmark, for his thoughts and feedback on the questionnaire. He suggested this best practice guide (PDF) for good survey design as a starting point. Here are some of the comments & suggestions he had:

  • The current 1-5 “definitely” likert scale is unclear (no label for 2,3,4). Greg suggested an even number of choices (1-4) so that there is no “maybe” or “unsure” category.
  • “A rule of thumb is to try and keep all the questions on the same scale with the same values, so converting all questions to statements with a 4 point agreement scale would work well.”
  • “Another rule of thumb is to phrase the questions all the same way. It is not leading or misleading to ask “I want a new downtown arena built in Edmonton.” Because you are asking whether they agree or not with the statement. “
  • If the responses were going to be analyzed in any way, Greg said he would have asked some demographic questions. As a simple questionnaire, that’s probably not as important.
  • Another suggestion Greg had was to combine the open-ended fields into one at the end, to make it quicker to complete the questionnaire. He said there’s often sorting that has to happen anyway.

Good feedback to keep in mind if a survey is created in the future. Thanks to both Greg and the City of Edmonton for helping me out with this.

I think there are two key takeaways here. First, the online questionnaire is not a survey. Second, the City of Edmonton is consistent in treating the questionnaire as just another way for people to provide input. If you think the questions are leading, don’t fill it out. There’s nothing stopping you from emailing the City with your thoughts or calling 311. And if you can, attend one of the public consultation sessions.

Recap: Downtown Arena Public Consultation Session

Last night was the first of four City-hosted public consultation sessions on the proposed downtown arena. The sessions aim to gather input that will be provided to City Council. Roughly 150 people visited the Robbins Health Learning Centre throughout the evening, though only about a third of those stayed for the facilitated part of the session.

Proposed Downtown Arena Consultation

The first two hours of the session followed an open house format, with information displays, handouts such as a backgrounder (PDF), City officials available to answer questions, and opportunities for individuals to write questions or comments on sticky notes or in drop boxes. Promptly at 7pm, Margaret Bateman made a brief presentation (PDF) on the consultation process. The next two hours were facilitated discussion groups, where everyone had the opportunity to provide specific feedback on five key questions. Here are the questions as they were presented this evening:

  1. What’s your position on building a downtown arena?
    • If supportive, why?
    • If not, why not?
    • If conditional, why?
  2. If a new downtown arena project were to proceed, what do you think is important to consider in terms of:
    • Design?
    • Downtown connection and impact?
    • Impact on surrounding communities?
    • Community benefits/engagement?
    • Impact on the future of Rexall Place?
    • Any other issues?
  3. What about using a mix of private and public funding to fund a downtown arena?
    • Are you open to this? Why?
    • Not open to this? Why not?
    • Open under certain circumstances or conditions? If so, what are they?
  4. What do you think about other possible funding sources to cover arena costs? (some or all of these are options)
    • A ticket tax
    • A personal seat license or luxury box license
    • A community revitalization levy (which would require the facility be publicly owned)
    • Funding for non-arena infrastructure from other levels of government
    • Additional private investment
    • Any other sources?
  5. Do you have any final thoughts or views for Council?

I attended a “stakeholder” consultation last Thursday that followed a similar format, but asked slightly different questions. The first question in that session was: “Do you support building an arena to revitalize Edmonton’s downtown? If yes, why? If no, why not?” Talk about a leading question with a big assumption! Needless to say I was very pleased to see that the City (along with consultation partner Calder Bateman) had tweaked the questions this time around.

Proposed Downtown Arena ConsultationProposed Downtown Arena Consultation

My discussion group started off fine, but quickly descended into disagreement as a few very vocal members wanted to skip to the funding question right away. The City officials on hand handled the situation very well, and before long our group was back on track generating some useful discussion (the other groups didn’t seem to have any issues). Here are some of the comments from the group that I wrote down:

  • Unclear that the arena would actually bring people downtown
  • The arena will not generate tourism
  • Skepticism about an influx of commercial development surrounding the arena
  • Transit would need to be greatly improved, concern about the lack of an LRT stop right at the arena
  • What would happen to Rexall Place?
  • General feeling we would lose Canadian Finals Rodeo and maybe other events
  • Lots of concern over traffic congestion, some concern over parking
  • Feeling that the current ticket prices are already too high
  • Quite a bit of skepticism about the effectiveness of a CRL
  • Thought that spending the money on existing recreation centres would result in higher benefit to the community

As far as I could tell, my group was the most negative about the arena. The others seemed cautiously optimistic, and when everyone came together at the end of the evening for Margaret Bateman’s recap, that seemed to be the consensus. There was concern over treating the arena as the key to revitalizing downtown, and there was obviously lots of concern over the funding model, but there also seemed to be some optimism that the project could be a very good thing.

Proposed Downtown Arena Consultation

There are three more public consultation sessions currently planned:

If you can’t make it to any of those sessions, you can fill out the online questionnaire, call 311, or email downtownarena@edmonton.ca.

For more information, check out the City of Edmonton’s site, the Katz Group’s site, and the Why Downtown? site. You can follow updates on Twitter using #yegarena.

Whether you’re for or against the arena, or even if you’re unsure, it’s important to make your voice heard!

Recap: Public Meeting on Proposed Arena & Entertainment District in Downtown Edmonton

Last night at MacEwan’s City Centre Campus the City of Edmonton held a Public Meeting on the proposed Arena & Entertainment District (on ShareEdmonton). I don’t know what the final attendance numbers were, but my rough guess is that about 100 people were in the room. There were a number of City representatives on hand, led by Scott Mackie from the Planning & Development department. Councillors Batty and Henderson also attended. From the Katz Group, Jim Low, Bob Black, and Steve Hogle were all there, along with Simon O’Byrne from Stantec, and Ray Davis from Bunt & Associates.

Public Meeting on AED RezoningPublic Meeting on AED Rezoning

The purpose of the meeting was to provide information on and to gather feedback about a proposed rezoning from DC2.500 to a new AED zoning. Such a change would require an amendment to either the existing Capital City Downtown Plan or the new one that Council is expected to approve this summer.

The night started with a brief presentation from Scott Mackie, as well as introductions of all the representatives:

Next Jim Low gave an overview:

The final (and very long) presentation was from Simon O’Byrne (only about the last two minutes are missing):

That was followed up by questions and comments from the audience, which I unfortunately had to miss (but it was live-tweeted, see below). I’m not sure why the Katz Group and its representatives got to talk for 45 minutes; I thought that’s why they held their own open house a couple weeks ago? Maybe that’s just how these things go.

Here’s a map of the area that the Katz Group would like rezoned:

Here are the tweets tagged #yegarena that were posted two hours before, during, and two hours after the public meeting (in reverse chronological order):

You can get the full version here. Here’s a quick Wordle I made with that data (removing usernames and the hashtag):

Both @journalistjeff and @bingofuel did an awesome job live-tweeting the meeting!

If you’d like to learn more about the rezoning process, you can do so here. I was pleased to see the City actively promoting its Planning Academy at the meeting. The proposed rezoning is tentatively scheduled to go to a public hearing on June 28, but that date could change – stay tuned to #yegarena for updates.

Public Meeting on AED RezoningPublic Meeting on AED Rezoning

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here.

UPDATE: Check out Jeff’s excellent recap here.

Recap: Edmonton Arena District Open House

Yesterday Edmontonians had the opportunity to visit the Art Gallery of Alberta to learn more about the proposed Edmonton Arena District (EAD). At least that was the intent of the open house – I’m not sure how many people actually came away with a better idea of what the proposed downtown arena is all about or how it’ll become a reality. Representatives from the Katz Group, Stantec Consulting, Bunt & Associates, and Anschutz Entertainment Group were on hand to answer questions, and there was a number of images and other bits of information on display.

Edmonton Arena District Open House

Clearly the downtown arena is a topic that many Edmontonians find interesting. When I visited the open house at around 11:15am, it was already at capacity (200 people at at time). By 5:00pm, the total number of visitors was close to 2000. In all, around 2650 people stopped by. It’s great that EAD is working to involve the public in its plans, and I’m very happy that so many people took the time to learn more.

Edmonton Arena District

For those of you who have been following this issue, there wasn’t anything new presented. None of the big questions were answered: proposed funding models, or details on cost. I did ask some questions about parking (I want less not more), and got almost a word-for-word response from the FAQ page. The only additional bit of information that was provided to me was that there would be “seven LRT platforms within a few blocks of the area.” I’m really not sure where that number comes from.

Edmonton Arena District Open HouseEdmonton Arena District Open House

A quick scan of the #yegarena hashtag on Twitter yesterday suggested a good mix of negative and positive tweets. I decided to run all 110 tweets through OpenAmplify, a semantic web service I’ve been experimenting with. It can identify topics, people, and other items and can determine the attitude expressed toward each one (the polarity). Here’s what I found (polarities below zero are negative, zero is neutral, and polarities above zero are positive).

#yegarena (so all the tweets, effectively)

  • Mean polarity: 0.53
  • Min polarity: –0.6
  • Max polarity: 1

winter garden

  • Mean polarity: 0
  • Min polarity: –0.15
  • Max polarity: 0

So tweets were slightly more positive than negative on the arena, and slightly negative on the winter garden. OpenAmplify also assigned a polarity of –1 to Katz and 1 to Zack Stortini (who made an appearance). This is highly unscientific, of course, but I still think it’s interesting. FWIW, this is very similar to the result found by Tweet Sentiments.

You can see the rest of my photos from the open house here.

New Concept for Edmonton Arena in The Quarters Downtown

Earlier today, local architect Gene Dub released some conceptual drawings and a video rendering of a new arena for Edmonton’s downtown. The project would cost about $300 million, and while Dub has talked to the Katz Group they haven’t made any commitments. According to Global TV, the arena would be on the third floor of the unique-looking, reverse-cone shaped building with retail underneath.

Dub surprised everyone by unveiling his vision at a public hearing for The Quarters Downtown redevelopment plan. The new arena would be located along 103A Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets. I’ve drawn it on a map which you can see here. Currently there’s a whole lot of parking on the site and not much else. The visioning process for The Quarters Downtown began over two years ago. City Council approved the vision statement on September 26th, 2006:

The Quarters (Downtown East) will be a vibrant, healthy community comprised of five distinct areas, each with its own character, activities, and feel, structured around a unique linear park system running through the neighbourhood that provides a defining element for the community. The neighbourhood is well connected to the downtown core and river valley, yet has a distinct image that identifies it as a unique place in the city. Streets are improved with limited through traffic, making the streets safe and inviting for pedestrians and bicyclists. Large city blocks are broken into smaller, more inviting and walkable pieces. Activity abounds. There is a mix of parks, shops, employment, services, and housing. There is a diversity of ages, incomes, and cultures. Open space is surrounded by businesses and housing, creating a safe and inviting amenity year round. The Quarters is a place where community is important and pride and investment in the neighbourhood is evident.

I don’t think the proposed arena goes against that vision, but it’s not exactly a perfect fit, either. I’ve been critical of a new arena before, primarily because I don’t feel that public funding should finance the bulk of the project. I’d reconsider that if the arena was part of a redevelopment project such as The Quarters, however. It remains unclear whether or not the proposed site would be large enough for more than just the arena.

Here’s the video render:

It’s definitely eye-catching.

Wondering who Gene Dub is? He’s the architect behind Edmonton’s City Hall. His firm has received a number of awards over the years, including at least six for the glass-and-stone pyramids of City Hall. Dub also served one-term as a city councillor.

It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of this proposal – I’ll be keeping an eye on it. You can find more comments on the design here and here.

UPDATE (11/25/2008): The Edmonton Journal wrote about the concept here, with few additional details but comments from Dub and a couple councillors.