ONEdmonton’s Downtown Vibrancy Task Force supports the Proposed Downtown Arena and Entertainment Deal

Today the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force finalized a letter to City Council expressing our support for the proposed downtown arena and entertainment deal. This is a follow-up on the January letter written in support of the rezoning. Here’s the letter:

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Our chair, Stantec’s Simon O’Byrne, spoke to Council in the second group of participants at today’s public hearing. A couple of his statements:

  • “Only people matter when it comes to vibrancy.”
  • “We believe this deal is an acceptable and advantageous tradeoff for Edmontonians.”
  • “No other catalyst will result in more people downtown.”
  • “Incredible opportunity to turn 16 acres of horrifically ugly gravel parking into the city’s premiere destination.”

The public hearing continues all day at City Hall. You can watch or listen live here.

With a positive vote on the arena, Council can get back into the driver’s seat

City Council probably could have done a better job of handling the arena issue this year. I asked Councillor Sohi about this a couple weeks ago, and he agreed. “In hindsight we should have been in the driver’s seat rather than letting the Katz Group drive the process,” he told me.

How much have things skewed in the Katz Group’s favor? Some would say a lot. Here’s what Paula Simons wrote about Council’s vote to purchase the land for the arena:

I am honestly awestruck at Katz’s audacity — and his brilliance. The city takes two large parcels straight off his hands, at his cost, allowing him to assemble and flip the land, with no expense or debt. The city pays all the upfront costs of the arena but still agrees to let the Katz Group choose and hire the architect, come up with the design, and keep all the revenues. We actually pay the team to promote the city. And, at Katz’s behest, we slap a tax on his business rival. It’s the most stunning power play in Oilers history.

The entire article is worth a read. It may have been a brilliant move on the part of the Katz Group, but I think it also opened the door for Council to gain some leverage. There are two key things to consider here – the land, and the design.

Purchasing the land that Katz assembled is a good deal for the City. Underutilized, valuable land is now owned by the City rather than speculative developers. The latest report on the proposed Downtown CRL pegs the cost of the land at around $30 million, a very reasonable amount. “The big piece of land for the arena proper is below market value so that was a no-brainier,” Councillor Iveson told me. Importantly, the City owns that land now regardless of what happens with the arena. “If the deal falls through, it’s a good asset,” Councillor Iveson said. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have the City own that land than a private interest. You might argue that the City could just as easily fail to do anything with the land, but at least we can put pressure on the City to make something happen. A private developer could just sit on the land forever. Getting rid of the parking lots is one of the most appealing aspects of this project.

Moving forward with the design process is an important next step. Conceptual stuff has been done by the Katz Group of course, but a vote in favor of the arena deal this week would really get the ball rolling. As I understand it, the City and the Katz Group would sit down and figure out the necessary retentions. They’d select the design architect, the local architect, and any consultants. An RFP would go out for the construction manager, and once the retentions were in place, the design process would start. According to the latest City report, “the City will fund the cost of design to a 60% level on which the tender documents will be based in order to get the best possible Guaranteed Maximum Price for the arena.” Keeping in mind the $450 million ceiling, the goal would be to produce a design that could be taken to market for that price, and the design itself is an element of that total amount. Importantly though, the City owns this design work (the Katz Group would retain ownership over the conceptual work they completed). “If either party elects not to complete the deal, the City will have ownership rights to the design work undertaken by the City.” You can read more about the budget request to start the process here.

The City needs the Katz Group’s help on this, so I think the collaborative approach makes sense. The Katz Group understands the market and they know what will sell. They’ve done the research and they know what has worked elsewhere around the league. Of course we want the design to be attractive, to comply with the Capital City Downtown Plan, and to support Edmonton’s other priorities, such as The Way We Green. But it has to be functional, too. With the proposed agreement, the City would get all of that design for less than all of the cost.

The design process also presents an important opportunity for Council to re-engage the public. The public consultation that will take place as part of getting to the final design must be taken seriously. It really should be seen as a rare chance to dramatically improve the way the City solicits input and feedback from citizens. We must do better.

Armed with both the land and a ready-to-build design for an arena, Council (and thus the City) will be in a much better negotiating position. Let’s assume for a minute that the deal falls through, perhaps because the province refuses to come to the table, and that Katz or a subsequent owner wanted to move the team. The City could justifiably go to the NHL and say “look, we have land and the design for a building ready to go” which would put the brakes on any move pretty quickly. The league is very unlikely to approve any move if the municipality is ready to play ball, especially in an important market like Edmonton. It gives Council leverage they lack at the moment, and it should put any relocation fears to rest, unfounded as they may be.

Not everyone agrees with this perspective. Councillor Caterina, for instance: “We could be spending taxpayers’ money…before we even know if an arena is a go or not.” But I don’t think there’s much harm in this limited amount of strategic spending. Everything appears to rest upon another level of government stepping up to the plate with $100 million or more. If that doesn’t happen, at least Council will be in a stronger position to move forward.

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe with this week’s vote on the arena deal, Council can get back into the driver’s seat.

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.

Edmonton’s downtown revitalization: now linked to the arena more than ever?

Back in May, the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group agreed on an agreement framework. A month later, City Council asked a number of questions about that agreement, which Administration answered in a report (PDF) that went back to Council on July 20, just before the summer break. Unsurprisingly, a few of those questions were related to the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL). The answer was that Administration would return to Council with more information, including the new CRL boundary, with a target date of August 31.

Today, that date became official, not to mention a whole lot more complicated. Here’s what a media advisory titled “Proposed Downtown CRL could fund revitalization” said:

A vibrant downtown is a key ingredient of a great city. Gary Klassen, General Manager for Sustainable Development, will be available to speak about a report on an option for a boundary for a downtown Community Revitalization Levy which could fund revitalization.

That media conference will take place tomorrow at noon (right in the middle of the I (heart) yegdt BBQ taking place right outside City Hall in Churchill Square). The report itself will be made available at 11am.

The gist of it is this: the City is proposing a larger, downtown-wide CRL to fund not only the arena but also a number of other “catalyst” projects in the downtown (as outlined in the Capital City Downtown Plan). I can’t confirm this just yet, but my understanding is that the proposed CRL is big – as in $320 million big. It’s a smart piece of political maneuvering, when you think about it. How do you get councillors who are opposed to or on the fence about a CRL for the arena to support one? Add in a whole bunch of other stuff they would likely support. It’ll be especially interesting because with the summer break a number of the councillors have no idea this is coming.

I think there are two ways to look at this proposal.

One perspective is that the proposed CRL is a good thing because the catalyst projects will finally receive funding. Projects like the Jasper Avenue New Vision, At-Grade LRT, the High Profile Bikeway System, and the Warehouse Campus Central Park all sound great, but don’t have any funding attached to them. The proposed CRL could be used to fund all of these in addition to the arena. Some projects would certainly benefit as they’d sort of “catch a ride with the arena” and would get their funding without too much added trouble. And since they are all part of the plan to revitalize downtown, the CRL is a good fit. That’s what it was intended for, after all.

The other perspective is that the proposed CRL is a bad thing because it basically holds downtown revitalization hostage. You could see the proposed CRL as a message that either Council agrees to fund the arena, or the other projects don’t receive funding. The 2012-2014 Capital Budget is coming up for discussion later this year, and some of these projects (or elements of them) would have been part of the budget discussions. Now it seems they would just come along with the arena, or….what? It’s not clear what the alternative might be. Additionally, projects funded through the CRL might not actually receive any money for years (a CRL takes time to approve), whereas if they were funded through the budget process they could receive funding as early as January.

Take the Alley of Light project, for instance. It was slated to be up for discussion as part of the Capital Budget, with a line item of $500,000. Now it would fall under the Green & Walkable Downtown catalyst project. In a way this is a good thing – the Alley of Light might receive the funding under the CRL without too much debate. On the other hand, don’t we want Council to be clear about what they’re funding? I want Council to stand up for the Alley of Light, to say that it is absolutely worth the $500,000, and that it will have a positive impact on our downtown. I don’t want it to get funded “under the radar” just because the arena did. Likewise I don’t want the arena to get funded just because we want the other projects.

Not to mention that the proposed CRL is especially risky given that The Quarters CRL is immediately to the east. How likely is it that the required development will take place in both areas to generate enough tax “lift” for the CRL to work?

Ever since the beginning, the Katz Group has made it clear that this project is about downtown revitalization. To them, downtown revitalization doesn’t really happen unless the arena happens. Now with the proposal of a downtown-wide CRL, it seems that the City has bought into that idea wholeheartedly. Next Wednesday, we’ll find out if City Council has as well.

UPDATE: The report is now available. Details: “over the 20 year term of the levy is expected to generate an additional $1.18 billion in new tax dollars (net present value of $600 million) of which $788 million is based on appreciation of the existing assessment base (net present value of $385 million).”

City Centre Redevelopment ‘shorter-listing’ reveals problems that must be addressed

Last week City Council shorter-listed three of the five finalists in the City Centre Redevelopment Master Plan Design Competition, with the winner set to be named on June 22. The decision to narrow the field to three after a botched media conference was unexpected and was largely overshadowed by last week’s arena news.

The media conference was set to take place on Wednesday afternoon. The advisory had gone out less than 24 hours earlier:

Join City Manager Simon Farbrother for the announcement of City Council’s selected design team to transform the City Centre Redevelopment project into a world leading, environmentally sustainable community. The announcement completes a year-long international competition to select the best team to deliver a master plan to develop this centrally-located land which is approximately 266 CFL football fields in size. A representative from the winning team will be on hand for media interviews after the formal portion of the announcement.

Members of the local media filled the Councillor’s Boardroom at City Hall which had been setup with chairs and the competing teams’ display boards. Mayor Stephen Mandel, City Manager Simon Farbrother, City Centre Redevelopment Executive Director Phil Sande, Fairness Advisor James McKellar, and a representative from each of the five finalists were set to be in attendance. We chatted amongst ourselves as we waited for the proceedings to begin.

ECCA Announcement

Just before four o’clock, Mayor Mandel and Simon Farbrother entered the room, nearly half an hour after the media conference was supposed to begin. The mayor took the podium and revealed that City Council had been discussing the proposals in camera (in private) and still had too many questions outstanding to make a decision. I tweeted the news at 3:57 PM, along with The Charrette and a few other people. Simon Farbrother also said a few words, and said the media would be given an update by the following morning. The whole thing lasted just five minutes.

I remember thinking as I left City Hall that someone must have screwed up. I mean, since when does Council discuss anything quickly? It’s their job to make an informed decision, and that usually takes time. I found out later that inconveniencing the media was just the tip of the iceberg.

Mayor Mandel ECCA Announcement

When Mayor Mandel had told the media that Council still had questions, I assumed they were questioning the finalists directly. Not so, Shafraaz Kaba of Manasc Isaac told me. While the media were sitting in the Councillor’s Boardroom waiting for the announcement, the five finalists were sitting in a windowless room in the City Clerk’s office. Shafraaz said they had been taken there while Council was discussing the selection committee’s recommendation. They were not told how long they’d be waiting. “They provided coffee and drinks, and some fruit and dessert that basically no one touched,” Shafraaz told me. He recalled that everyone was starting to get impatient as they watched the minutes slowly tick by. Finally after an hour and a half they sent someone to find out what was going on. Soon everyone had left the room and was waiting outside the clerk’s office for some kind of update. “That’s when I saw your tweets, about Council not being able to make a decision,” he told me. A few minutes later, Phil Sande arrived and told them that Council would not be making a decision after all. When Shafraaz told him that they already knew that, Phil seemed surprised and asked how they had found out. “It was like he didn’t seem to know that there was a press conference going on,” Shafraaz said.

The next morning, Phil called Shafraaz and told him that their team’s submission had not been chosen as one of the three to move ahead. It was clarified that the Mayor and City Council will make the final decision on the winning team. At the Downtown Business Association’s Spring Luncheon later that day, representatives from all five teams were introduced and then a short, pre-recorded video with Mayor Mandel was shown. In the video, Mandel made reference to “the decision” which brought chuckles to the packed room. Simon Farbrother then made the official announcement about the shortlisting of three teams.

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

The way the finalists were treated last week is completely inexcusable. Five world-class teams are competing to help shape the future of Edmonton and we lock them in a room with no information about what’s going on? It’s completely unacceptable. What are the chances that they’re going to want to work with the City again after being treated like that?

The worst part is that Wednesday was just more of the same, according to Shafraaz. There has been confusion and some disappointing decisions made ever since the start of the competition. “We asked early on who had the final decision, the ‘jury of distinguished experts’ or City Council,” Shafraaz told me. The response from the City was that Council had the final decision but that hopefully they would respect the jury’s decision. The RFP stated that “the jury will ultimately recommend a winning Submission or combination of Submissions to City Council for adoption” and that “City Council reserves the right to accept or reject the recommendation of the jury.” It certainly seemed as though Council’s role was not to conduct its own analysis but was instead to ratify the recommendation of the jury. Why have an independent jury if that wasn’t the case?

There were other bumps along the road too. “It was unclear what the deliverables for a ‘master plan’ should be,” Shafraaz told me. With no guidance, each team likely interpreted the amount of work involved differently. That’s especially problematic given that 25% of the evaluation scoring was price (vision & team philosophy was 30%, primary requirements was 25%, and master plan principles was 20%). “Is it about design or is it about cost?” Shafraaz wondered. “If you want the best design, you pay for it; it should never have been about cost.”

Unsurprisingly, the finalists also had to dig for details on the public involvement aspect of the competition. “We had to ask how much information we could present, how many boards we could have, how long the videos could be,” Shafraaz said. The jury was supposed to consider how the public responded, but teams were given no information about how that would be done. I saw some great coverage at The Charrette, but what little buzz there was about the videos didn’t seem to be sustained or capitalized on by the City, let alone factored into any evaluation.

Shafraaz is obviously disappointed that his team wasn’t shorter-listed, but he doesn’t regret taking part in the competition. “What made losing worth it, in terms of time and energy and all of the hours put in, is the experience of working with amazing designers, engineers, and other consultants that have done this kind of work in other projects.” He hopes other local participants also learned from the experience.

Ultimately, the real work will begin after a winning team is finally selected next month. Shafraaz thinks the project can gain some momentum after that decision is made, “but they’re going to have to work at it.” I don’t think it’s enough to simply hope that the City does indeed work at it. There are clearly some issues that must be addressed. We need to hold the City accountable and we need to ensure the mistakes that have been made so far are not repeated. This project is too important.

Edmonton’s Downtown Arena moves ahead with agreement framework

The Katz Group scored a major victory tonight as City Council voted in private to approve an “agreement framework” for the proposed downtown arena. The framework is the basis for the two sides to negotiate a formal Master Agreement, which will require final approval by City Council. While not a final binding agreement, tonight’s deal nevertheless allows the project to move forward.

Here is the full motion and amendments as voted on back on April 6 (tonight’s was largely the same – see here):

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The vote tonight succeeded 8-5. Who voted in favor of the framework? Who voted against?

For: Mandel, Krushell, Loken, Leibovici, Batty, Henderson, Anderson, Sohi
Against: Sloan, Gibbons, Caterina, Iveson, Diotte

The document outlines $350 million in funding for a $450 million arena. Where does the other $100 million come from?

Answering questions from the media tonight, Mayor Mandel would only say “other orders of government.” There is no confirmation on where the remaining amount will come from, but it is hoped that the Province will support the project.

How much of the total cost will be funded by a CRL?

The motion only states that $20 million be directed at the arena from a CRL. The remaining $105 million (the City’s maximum contribution will be $125 million) could come from direct tax revenues. However, the agreement framework page states that $45 million would come from a CRL. The final mix is likely to change.

What happens to Rexall Place and Northlands?

The motion specifies that City administration will continue “to work with Northlands to ensure the City understands their financial challenges and how these can be addressed.” Answering questions this evening, City Manager Simon Farbrother said that Edmonton cannot sustain two arenas. It would appear that Northlands has lost its seat at the table.

Will the City own the arena? Will it receive the revenue?

Under the agreement, the City would own the building and land. The Katz Group would be responsible for all maintenance, upgrades, operating and capital expense costs. The City also retains the right to access the facility four weeks a year. As for revenue, the motion only states that the City “negotiate options for potential revenue sharing.”

What will the arena look like?

The City stated tonight that the arena will contain 18,500 seats and 350 parking stalls. The design process will still need to happen once the project moves ahead.

What are the next steps?

The City and the Katz Group will now work to complete the Master Agreement. They’ll also be working to secure the remaining $100 million, likely from the Province.

Twitter was buzzing with the news tonight. Here are a few of the tweets that caught my eye:

#yegcc just came back in public – voted on a motion to approve a framework for #yegarena deal – details to be kept in private. Passes 8-5.

News conference upcoming at City Hall for major #yegarena announcement.

City announces framework to build arena!

City and Katz Group agree on agreement framework to build arena http://bit.ly/ipraRy #yegarena #yeg

The City of Edmonton and Katz Group agree to framework that “sustains NHL hockey in #yeg for 35 years.” #yegarena #Oilers

Mandel stresses optimism, forward momentum, believes holes in plan will come together now that framework of deal in place. #yegarena

This arena will built just when the construction labour and materials market explodes. I’m guessing it comes in at $700 million. #yegarena

This arena situation is just like the airport situation; everyone knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when. #yegarena #yeg

NOTE: #yegarena dissenters. A friendly reminder; you have until JULY 17th to file your plebiscite application. Just saying.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next! Much more to come, stay tuned.

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.

LRT Expansion was never just icing on the Edmonton EXPO 2017 cake

Allow me to begin with a passage from the executive summary of The Way We Move, the City of Edmonton’s current Transportation Master Plan:

We are building a 21st century city, shaping an Edmonton that will meet the needs of our diverse and growing urban and regional population. Growing environmental concerns, acknowledgment of the ongoing investment needed to maintain our transportation infrastructure and the rapid growth of our city demand a shift in transportation priority setting. It is a shift from single passenger vehicle use to more public transit; from building outward to a compact urban form. From an auto oriented view of transportation to a more holistic view of an interconnected, multi-modal transportation system where citizens can walk, bike, bus and train efficiently and conveniently to their desired location.

The City of Edmonton is working to achieve this vision through the LRT Network Plan, as well as other initiatives. This vision does not ignore automobiles, but it certainly places greater emphasis on public transit.

At the top of the list of benefits that EXPO 2017 could have brought to Edmonton was funding for infrastructure. Was it the best way to try to get higher levels of government to commit to funding something that Edmonton so desperately needs? Perhaps not. But make no mistake about it: funding for LRT expansion was never just icing on the EXPO 2017 cake. Expanding our LRT network is vital for Edmonton’s future. Here’s what Councillor Don Iveson wrote nearly a year ago:

Projects like this require the alignment of at least two and, properly, three orders of government. It will require the relentless pressure of citizens on Councillors, but more particularly on MLAs and MPs.

He was right then and still is today. Our quest to be Canada’s host city for EXPO 2017 might have failed, but we cannot allow our plans for LRT expansion to fail as well.

At a news conference yesterday, Transportation GM Bob Boutilier questioned why Edmonton had not received the same level of federal support as Toronto has when it comes to funding for public transit, saying “I just think we’re owed. It’s time.” But he also suggested that LRT expansion plans would be delayed by a year or two now that EXPO is no longer in the picture, something that would potentially save money.

This is unacceptable.

It’s unacceptable that the expansion is being delayed, and it’s unacceptable that it’s Boutilier and not Council questioning the federal government’s support.

Why would LRT expansion have been fast-tracked with EXPO 2017 but not without it? Back in April, Boutilier said that meeting the deadline of 2017 was “do-able” with some creativity, noting that “we cannot use the conventional approach to building transit that we’ve used in the city up to this point.” A few weeks later, he suggested a board of directors to oversee the construction as a way to speed up the project. At the time, the cost of the expansion was pegged at “more than $3 billion”. It has since been narrowed down to $3.4 billion. So either it was going to cost significantly more than Boutilier was letting on, or the cost savings of delaying by a year or two are negligible.

I think Boutilier has one of the toughest jobs at the City of Edmonton, overseeing one of the most vital and controversial parts of the business, so I don’t envy the tough decisions he has to make. Boutilier should definitely be willing to make noise about the lack of resources he has, but in the same week that we lost EXPO, I would have liked to have heard some Councillors speak up for LRT as well. Instead, that job has been left to Boutilier and to EXPO bid committee chair Tony Franceschini. I’ve seen only Councillor Ben Henderson comment, saying “I personally don’t want to see us slow down.” Councillor Kerry Diotte also remarked on funding, “With the feds these days, who knows?”

I want my City Council to stand up for The Way We Move. If there’s a window of opportunity with regards to the federal government as a result of the EXPO decision, take advantage of it. Ask Administration to keep going, not to slow down. Make some noise. Show some of the emotion that Mayor Mandel showed on Monday.

The loss of EXPO shouldn’t be an excuse for us to slow down with LRT expansion. It should be a catalyst for increased pressure to get the job done.

2010-2013 Edmonton City Council Swearing-in Ceremony & Inaugural Meeting

Edmonton’s new City Council was officially sworn into office this afternoon at City Hall. Following the ceremony, they held what will undoubtedly be the quickest meeting of the term, to approve council chamber seating arrangements, standing committee membership, and the meeting schedule for the next year. Nearly 400 people attended, including many of the Mayor’s and Councillors’ friends, family, and supporters.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony 
Organized by Communications & the City Clerk, the event had a very nice printed program!

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Staff Sergeant Langford Bawn piped council members into the City Room, accompanied by members of the Edmonton Police Service, Fire Rescue, and Alberta Paramedics Guards of Honour.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Council members smiled and waved as they entered. Lynda Steele served as the Master of Ceremonies. Matt Day played the piano, and Amanda Clark led the singing of O Canada.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
The Honourable Don Manderscheid, Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, administered the oath to the Mayor and Councillors.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
After Mayor Mandel was sworn in, he received the Chain of Office from City Manager Simon Farbrother. After all the Councillors were sworn in, Mayor Mandel spoke about the work ahead.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Students from the City Hall School lined the second floor of the City Room, while friends and family filled the seats below.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Council Chambers was packed for the inaugural meeting! By the time everyone had piled in, the meeting was finished! A reception was held following the meeting.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
2010-2013 Edmonton Mayor & City Council

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

UPDATE: Courtesy of Dave, here are some photos from the 2007 swearing-in ceremony.