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.

Stantec looks to the future with its new tower in downtown Edmonton

The story behind downtown Edmonton’s new Stantec tower isn’t just about the arena, it’s about an Edmonton success story making a bold bet on the future of our city. Stantec is the largest architecture company in Canada, and they build communities all around the world from right here in Edmonton. They’re an important part of both our city’s history and its future.

Keith Shillington

“People know Stantec, but they don’t know Stantec,” Keith Shillington told me over coffee at Credo on 104 Street, just a few blocks from where the new tower will rise. “This is an opportunity to tell the story.”

From Dr. Stanley to Stantec

Stantec began life in 1954 as Stanley Associates, founded by Dr. Don Stanley. The company grew very successfully until the National Energy Program in 1983 hit the firm hard, forcing major layoffs. But they weathered that storm and rebounded in a big way. By the 1990s, the company’s various assets were brought under the umbrella of Stanley Technology Group, and in 1994 the company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In 1998, Tony Franceshini became President and CEO and he launched the Stantec brand. He also articulated a goal for the company: to become a billion-dollar company by 2008. He retired that year having achieved his goal.

Today the company has about 14,000 staff working in more than 230 locations all around the world. The company is listed on both the TSX and NYSE and boasted revenue of more than $1.8 billion in 2013. And under current President & CEO Bob Gomes, Stantec has a new goal: to be a top 10 global design firm. His message on the website recognizes the firm’s rich history and its bright future:

“We take pride in a long history of being part of the communities we serve. We started in 1954 as a one-person firm founded in Edmonton by Dr. Don Stanley. Today we are a public company with a diverse portfolio of clients across many sectors and geographies, both in North America and internationally.”

You can learn much more about the evolution of Stantec on their website.

The search for a new home

Last year, Stantec began the search for a new home in Edmonton. The company currently has about 1,700 local employees spread across four different offices: Stantec Centre at 10160 112 Street, the Devonian office at 11160 Jasper Avenue, the Scotia Place office at 10060 Jasper Avenue, and the Bell Tower office at 10120 103 Avenue. Leases on all of those spaces come due by 2019, making it the ideal time to start thinking about consolidation.

Stantec Centre

The requirements Stantec outlined were vague. At least 300,000 square feet of space, good transit and transportation links, and good amenities. The location was not specified, with the company open to either downtown or suburban proposals, a position that led to great alarm among downtown supporters at the thought of losing one of our city’s major employers.

Keith led the team that undertook the search and ultimately selected the tower that was unveiled yesterday. He’s a Senior Vice President at Stantec, and in company parlance, Keith is a Geographic Leader of the Canadian Prairies and Regional Leader of Alberta North. He’s an Edmontonian, and a proud one.

“Imagine the statement it would have made if we had gone to the suburbs,” he said, saying that while the company stayed open to all possibilities throughout the search, their “hearts were downtown.” In all, Stantec looked at 15 proposals for a new space, 9 of which were located in the downtown area. “They really blew us away,” he said, noting the decision was not easy. “It was fun as an Edmontonian to see the possibilities.”

An iconic building?

When Stantec announced that the search for a new space was beginning, Keith spoke to the Journal about the company’s requirements. At the time, he made a surprising comment about the design of the new building:

“Again, it’s going to depend on what comes back and what developers are prepared to do to meet our needs, but to be honest, are we looking for the iconic ‘wow'”? he asked. “That’s actually not Stantec. That’s not our culture.”

He told me the comment caused quite a bit of discussion internally. “Boy did I hear about that from our design folks!” Still, he maintained that being iconic wasn’t the goal. “Iconic was not written into the RFP,” he said. “Height was not as important to us as having the right space for our staff.”

Keith talked a lot about meeting the needs of staff. For three years straight, Stantec has been named one of Alberta’s Top Employers, and it shows. The new building includes enough space not only for the roughly 1,700 current employees, but also includes room for growth. “It shows confidence in our future,” Keith said. They’re not ready to talk about the interiors yet, but there’s no doubt the design will be geared toward ensuring Stantec has a healthy, happy workforce.

Connected to the community

The new building needed to meet the needs of Stantec and its staff of course, but the company also wanted it to have an impact on the community. “It had to have meaning,” Keith told me. “It couldn’t be just another building.”

I asked him to elaborate on that in the context of Stantec’s culture. “Connected,” is the word he used. “Our connection with the community is strongest when we’re downtown.” He pointed to the existing office on 112 Street as an example. “It’s about the street,” he said, noting the company has programmed 112 Street for all sorts of events for staff. They’ve hosted extremely popular food truck gatherings, for instance. That connection to the street is one of the things that attracted Stantec to the arena district. “The plaza allows us to continue that tradition,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Another interesting aspect of the new tower is the residential component, which will fill the top 33 floors. “It wasn’t originally in the plan,” Keith told me, “but we were open to the possibilities.” It’s another way for Stantec to be connected with the community they’re located in. They’ve done something similar with their new offices in Winnipeg (which features a hotel instead of residential units).

The downtown advantage

Stantec is a major supporter of downtown already, with its existing offices and through its people. For instance, both Keith and Stantec VP Simon O’Byrne are members of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force. But the company knew a tower provided an opportunity to do more.

Keith said there were many reasons that being downtown made sense for Stantec. “LRT was a big factor,” Keith said, and admitted it was why some of the other downtown proposals were ultimately ruled out. Being located close to multiple LRT connections was just too appealing. “Cycling routes are also very important,” he said.

Many of the firm’s clients are located downtown and many staff already live there. “Over 50% of our staff are under the age of 35,” he said, noting that increasingly they want to live in the middle of the action. He said being downtown was “a big factor” in thinking about retaining and attracting staff. The trend in cities like Toronto has been for companies to move their offices back into the core from the suburbs, specifically to better tap into the large pool of young, highly educated workers that want to live centrally.

Then of course, there’s the arena district. With the new City of Edmonton tower, a rumored hotel, the arena itself, and potentially more announcements on the way, it’s shaping up to be an exciting area for years to come. If we can pay for it, that is. Keith and the team at Stantec knew they could have a major positive impact by building their tower within the boundary of the CRL, which is a key part of the financing for the arena. “It’s another way for us to support downtown,” he said.

A lasting impact on Edmonton

There’s no question the new building will have a visible impact on Edmonton, dramatically altering the skyline for years to come. But Keith wants the building to change more than just the skyline. “I hope we can inspire others to do more,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunities in front of us.”

“We love what’s going on here in Edmonton, and we want to be part of it.”

Edmonton will officially join the skyscraper club with Stantec’s new tower

Stantec today unveiled their new headquarters, a 62-storey tower that will be built on the corner of 102 Street and 103 Avenue right in the heart of the Edmonton Arena District. Along with the Katz Group, WAM Development Group, and City of Edmonton, Stantec shared details on the new building which will be the tallest in Edmonton and one of the tallest in western Canada.

Stantec Tower

As expected, the new building will open directly into the public plaza in the Edmonton Arena District, and is being considered the “anchor” project. Construction on the $500 million project will begin this fall, with the new building slated to open in the summer of 2018.

It was back in June that City Council officially removed the Airport Protection Overlay, clearing the way for buildings higher than 150 meters to be possible. That height is significant. A building is generally considered a “high-rise” until it reaches 150m, at which point it becomes a skyscraper, at least according to most definitions. As of April 2013, there were 90 such buildings in Canada: Toronto has 56, Calgary has 16, Montreal has 9, Vancouver has 4, Mississauga has 2, and Niagara Falls and Burnaby each have 1. With the new Stantec tower, Edmonton will officially become a member of the skyscraper club!

Stantec Tower

The new tower will rise to 224 meters (or 746 feet), though officials today clarified that it could still rise higher. The design features 26 floors of offices and could accommodate another 2 floors if the market demand makes adding them feasible. The building will also include approximately 320 residential units taking up 33 residential floors. Another 2 floors are mechanical, and the first floor will feature retail.

“This new building will revolutionize the downtown landscape in Edmonton and will set expectations for future buildings in the city,” said Darren Durstling, President and CEO of WAM Development Group. “This tower is being designed, engineered and project managed entirely by Stantec, showcasing their vast capabilities and experience.”

The new building will have a dramatic effect on Edmonton’s skyline when it opens. The current tallest building in the city is EPCOR Tower, which rises to 149 meters (490 feet). Manulife Place, which was the tallest structure in Edmonton for 28 years, rises to 146 meters (480 feet). Down in Calgary, the iconic Bow tower rises to 236 meters (774 feet).

Stantec unveils new tower

Daryl Katz said the new tower will “set the tone for new buildings in Edmonton for years to come.” He called it “an extraordinary addition” to Edmonton’s skyline. Mayor Don Iveson joked, “I’m a tall guy, but I am intimidated by this!” He highlighted the building’s impact on Edmonton, saying it will transform our city’s image across the country. “This is an indication of what the power of investment in our downtown can do,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Stantec is taking about 450,000 square feet of the new building, or approximately 19 floors. They have signed a 15 year lease which of course includes naming rights (the official name is yet to be revealed). Today’s announcement was hosted at Stantec’s head office on 112 Street, one of four local offices that will be consolidated into the new building. Dozens of Stantec staffers were on hand to witness the unveiling.

“We are proud to have both our people and our designer’s work play a role in enhancing the vibrancy of the Edmonton Arena District,” said Bob Gomes, president and CEO of Stantec.

You can see Gomes and WAM President & CEO Darren Durstling literally press a button to reveal the new building with this GIF. Stantec Senior VP Keith Shillington said “our hearts were downtown” while acknowledging the proposal received some stiff competition.

Stantec unveils new tower

I am very excited about this building. Stantec, one of Edmonton’s biggest success stories, is making a significant commitment to the future of our downtown. On top of that, this building is the first major private project in the Edmonton Arena District. During the press conference, Mayor Iveson did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to suggest that if Manulife Place currently contributes about $3 million in annual tax revenue, the new Stantec tower could contribute $4-5 million into the CRL. That’s extremely significant. Just as the Bow tower “paid for” the Rivers CRL in Calgary, the Stantec tower makes the success of the downtown CRL much more likely. And hopefully it’ll allow us to attract even more private investment. For me, the “district” just became real.

Stantec Tower

If you look closely in the renderings, you’ll see a building directly to the north that features the word “hotel” across the top. I understand that the next big announcement for the Edmonton Arena District will include details on the hotel. It’s a very exciting time for downtown Edmonton!

You can see more photos from today’s announcement here.

Recap: Katz Group reaches out to Nextgeners on the Edmonton Arena District

Last night the Katz Group hosted an “off the record” meeting downtown to talk about the proposed Edmonton Arena District with “nextgeners”. Most of the nearly 60 people in attendance heard about the event through the Edmonton Next Gen’s weekly newsletter. Given that the last news update on their website was posted on July 23, I was curious to hear what Bob Black had to say.

Bob’s presentation lasted just under an hour, and was followed by a question and answer session. The newest piece of information to me was related to some concepts the Katz Group has come up with for street activations. The concepts are very much a work-in-progress, and will be shared more widely in the future after they are further developed.

Both Paul and Bruce have already written about the meeting, but here are my notes and favorite quotes (all quotes are attributed to Bob Black):

  • Much of the presentation was a recap. The district is 12 acres on the north side, 4 acres on the south side.
  • The current plan is for the arena to be centered on the north side, surrounded by a practice rink, office towers, and other development. The south side could host a hotel and a condo building.
  • As Bob walked through diagrams and concepts, he made sure to point out changes they have made based on feedback.
  • “We believe our project can contribute significantly to putting Edmonton on a new foundation for business.”
  • Bob called the July meeting with City Council “a watershed moment” in the history of the EAD project, because it gave them a process to follow.
  • “We think there’s more opportunity for live entertainment in Edmonton, and we intend to put it into the district.” Bob described two additional live entertainment venues that would be part of the complex, in addition to the arena itself. He talked fondly about the old Sidetrack Cafe.
  • “The project will be phased. To expect that all 16 acres be developed at once is not realistic.” In questions after the presentation, Bob confirmed that the arena would be built first, but couldn’t give specifics about the rest of the development.
  • Bob talked about the seasons, and explained the idea of a sidewalk-arcade. In the summer, activity would spill onto the sidewalk. In the spring/fall, the arcade could have roll-down shades, and in the winter, it could even be heated.
  • Bob also talked at length about the winter garden, perhaps the most controversial part of the proposed development thus far. He explained that it was created to solve a critical design issue – they don’t want to impair traffic on 104 Avenue, and they want to ensure the safety of patrons after large events. He mentioned the current “lemming” effect after hockey games, where large groups of people quickly “get the heck out of dodge.”
  • The winter garden is intended to be a year-round gathering place, and the Katz Group clearly sees it as the centrepiece of the development. Bob called it the “statement piece” and said it could be Edmonton’s “postcard snapshot”.
  • The winter garden would be roughly 1 acre in size, suspended 32 feet above 104 Avenue. Despite criticism that the winter garden moves pedestrian traffic off the street, Bob said that it “ties the arena into the downtown”.
  • The presentation did touch on the Oilers and its finances. “The Oilers are the only team in the NHL that do not receive non-hockey revenues.”
  • In response to a few questions about what the development would look like and how it would be funded, Bob said: “Until you have a project you can’t make the full investment required for architecture and costing.” He did spend some time explaining the CRL as well.
  • Bob proactively tackled the notion that we could simply retrofit Rexall Place. He explained the expense that would be required, and pointed out that renovating Rexall wouldn’t allow the Katz Group to achieve its goals. “We’re looking to change the nature of entertainment in Edmonton.”
  • In response to a question about what would happen to Rexall Place, Bob replied: “What happens to Rexall if the project goes ahead is not up to the Katz group.” He also pointed out that Northlands has not shown any desire to dialogue on the issue.
  • Parking of course came up in the presentation. Bob’s slides showed that there are roughly 8470 parking spaces available within a 10 minute walk from the EAD, and roughly 5075 within a 5 minute walk. Bob said the current plan is to build between 1500 and 3000 parking stalls in the EAD.
  • When asked about the Greyhound bus station and other surrounding development that might be considered “urban blight”, Bob said he has high hopes that Gene Dub will do something with the land when the bus station lease expires.
  • When asked about sustainability, Bob said the vision is to be “absolutely green”.
  • The very first question that was asked of Bob was what happens to the less fortunate who may be displaced by the development, or who simply can’t afford to access the facilities. Bob reiterated that some elements of the EAD are intended to be public gathering spaces, and did confirm that dialogue with agencies and other partners is ongoing, but said that “you can’t always reach every demographic.”
  • Some of the projects Bob referenced as potential examples during his presentation include: Hudson Yards in New York, Rockefeller Center in New York, British Museum in London, BCE Place Galleria in Toronto (which is actually classified as public art by the City of Toronto), and Fulton Street Transit Centre in New York.
  • Bob finished with his call to action, asking anyone with values similar to the Katz Group, to help. “We believe now is the time where Edmonton needs to be bold.”

Edmonton Arena District Meeting

The Katz Group has gotten a bit of a free ride in the media over the summer thanks to the City Centre Airport issue, but they’ve used that time to continue consultations with a wide range of individuals and organizations.

Check out the #yegarena hashtag on Twitter for updates.

I should point out that I did have permission to tweet and write about the event. I don’t think it was really meant to be off-the-record; the Katz Group just wanted the chance to chat without the media around. But of course, nextgeners like me are never far from an Internet-enabled device!

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.