Daryl Katz finally reveals some information about the Edmonton Arena District

At a media briefing attended by a select few journalists on Thursday, Daryl Katz finally revealed some information about the Edmonton Arena District. The event was timed to coincide with the launch of the new district website that has lots of photos, videos, and other information about the project. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Downtown Arena Press Conference

He pitched the journalists on the scale of the project and the impact it’ll have on Edmonton, and judging by the words that were written, it sounds like he did a convincing job. But incredibly, Katz also talked about an apparent lack of knowledge about the district:

“We have a world-class sports and entertainment district under construction now in the city and nobody really knows about it.”

Surely he doesn’t think Edmontonians lack awareness about the district. There have been lots of opportunities to hear or read mention of it. For instance, the phrase “arena district” was mentioned in 251 Edmonton Journal articles since 2008. We just had a big flashy launch for the new Stantec tower. Before that there was the new City of Edmonton tower. People at least know that there’s this thing called the “arena district”.

So he must mean that no one knows about the specifics of the district. The overall design of the project, what it will include, that sort of thing. We still don’t know all that information. So the question is, why? Because Daryl Katz and his associates have never wanted to talk about it.

It’s not like the question was never asked. Despite it being critical for the CRL which will help to fund the arena, no one from the Katz Group has ever been willing to say much about the arena district. That’s why journalists couldn’t find anyone who was participating in the project. Whenever the question came up, the answer was always, “we’re not going to talk about the district today.” Only very recently did that become, “we will be providing details on [the district] soon.” If there’s a lack of knowledge about the project, that’s entirely because the Katz Group refused to share any information about it.

Daryl Katz

I understand that Daryl Katz wants to try to control the message as much as possible, and that’s his prerogative. But to lament that no one knows about it after intentionally keeping everyone in the dark? That’s rich.

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.

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.

Daryl Katz wants a new arena in Edmonton

rexallDaryl Katz, founder of the Rexall pharmacy company, announced yesterday that he had acquired 100% of the outstanding shares in the Edmonton Investors Group (EIG), making him the new owner of the Edmonton Oilers (pending league approval which is widely expected to come without any problems). Here’s what the somewhat reclusive Katz said in yesterday’s statement:

“Like the EIG and all Edmontonians, I want what is best for the team, the
community and the city. I want to help secure a world-class building and
continue the EIG’s legacy by bringing the Cup back to Edmonton.”

Today he held a press conference with select members of the media, which I listened to on 630ched. It was the first time since he started pursuing the Oilers last March that we’ve heard him speak about his motivations. I found most of his answers to be fairly simplistic, without much meat behind them. He said “I can’t comment on that” quite a few times.

One thing he did make clear, however, is that he is eager to see a new arena built in the heart of downtown. He wants the Oilers to play at the centre of the community.

Katz has suggested he’d be willing to commit $100 million towards the construction of a new arena. With estimates for the project ranging from $250 million to over $500 million (and possibly as high as $1 billion depending on the scope), there’s a lot of funding that will need to come from somewhere else. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe it should come from taxpayers. All Katz said today was that “there are lots of ways to fund real estate.”

I’m glad Katz is the new owner of the Oilers. Almost everyone associated with the team seems to like him, and I don’t think there’s any question that he’s got Edmonton’s best interests at heart. He also seems fairly level-headed about things, making clear today that he wants to read a pending report on the feasibility of a new arena before making any decisions.

That said, I hope his eagerness to build a new rink in Edmonton’s downtown does not turn into blind determination. Katz needs to be able to say no if it becomes clear that a new arena will only happen with significant public funding, at the expense of other, more important public projects.