Northlands’ Vision 2020 is not going to happen

The City of Edmonton released its analysis of Northlands’ Vision 2020 proposal today. Introducing the report, City Manager Linda Cochrane said, “we acknowledge that Vision 2020 is an option for what could be done with the 160 acres.” It’s clear from reading the report however that the City doesn’t support the plan.

“Northlands has proposed an ambitious plan and there are elements that are worthy of future exploration,” Mayor Iveson said. But there’s a but. “Council’s job must be to make decisions that are in the best interest of the city, not just one organization.” Suggesting that there’s more work to be done, he said “it’s critical that we aren’t rushed and that we make the right decision for our city.”

Northlands Park

Vision 2020 proposes a transformation of both Northlands as an organization and the 160 acres of land that it leases from the City and operates, which includes Rexall Place, the Edmonton EXPO Centre, Northlands Park Racetrack and Casino, and all of the parking. The plan would see Rexall Place repurposed as a recreation facility, a retrofit for Hall D in the EXPO Centre, a new agriculture strategy, the end of horse racing and a redevelopment of Northlands Park into an urban festival site, and a redevelopment plan consisting of commercial, retail, and residential uses. The key to making the plan work is debt forgiveness on the $48 million outstanding debt that Northlands owes on the Edmonton EXPO Centre, to say nothing of the capital expenditures required to build everything outlined in the plan.

Debt Forgiveness

On the debt forgiveness, Mayor Iveson was clear that is not likely to happen. “I don’t believe Edmontonians would support forgiving a debt this large.” Perhaps more importantly, there’s no upside to the City by forgiving the debt.

Northlands owes $47.4 million as of June 30, 2016 and the City has a corresponding debt obligation with the Alberta Capital Finance Authority for the same amount. Every year Northlands pays the City $4.05 million which the City in turn pays to ACFA, so there’s zero impact to the City. If the loan were forgiven, the City would have to find a way to pay the $4.05 million each year for the loan from ACFA, which expires in 2034 and does not have an option for early termination. “Funding this loan from the tax levy would require a 0.3% tax levy increase in 2017 at a total cost of $72.8 million for the remaining duration of the loan.”

Northlands is projecting negative cash flows of $7.7 million per year which means it may be at risk of defaulting on its loan payments as early as next year. If that were to happen, the City would have the ability to terminate the lease and take back possession of the EXPO Centre which provides the City with “a tangible capital asset that will limit the impact of a default on the City’s financial position.” In theory the City could use income generated from the EXPO Centre to fund the ACFA loan.

“The business case for the expansion of the Expo Centre was overly ambitious in retrospect,” Mayor Iveson said today. But we are where we are, there’s no going back now.

Debt forgiveness or not, the City is on the hook for the money. But by allowing Northlands to default on its loan, the City gains complete control of the Northlands site and EXPO Centre as well.

Repurposing Rexall Place

“There is no immediate demand for six new ice sheets in Edmonton,” the report states, “however opportunity does exist to leverage the Rexall repurpose concept in the context of closing or repurposing four single-sheet ice facilities in north and northeast Edmonton.” The Mayor sounded somewhat optimistic about the idea, and mentioned that he had even spoken with Hockey Canada recently to explore the idea of a hockey academy in the facility. Northlands estimates the cost of repurposing the facility at $85 million. While the City says it “is technically feasible” they disagree on the cost, suggesting “an estimate of $102 million within -10% to +20% would be more appropriate.”

Farewell Rexall Place
Farewell Rexall Place, photo by Jeff Wallace

The wrinkle with this part of the plan is that the City is restricted by the Master Agreement with the Edmonton Arena Corporation (EAC) on the kind of investments it can make to Rexall Place. “The City cannot not make additional capital expenditures that exceed those required to maintain Rexall Place in a safe condition and in compliance with applicable laws.” Furthermore, as soon as Rogers Place opens the City has to stop providing any financial support to Rexall Place, directly or indirectly, except as required to comply with the law and maintain public safety.

The biggest issue however is that “the City must not financially support or advocate in favour of any plan to rebuild or renovate Rexall Place, unless it is to convert the facility to something other than a sports or entertainment facility.” If the plan to repurpose Rexall Place is going to go ahead, the EAC would need to formally waive that restriction.

Hall D

The Hall D retrofit would increase seating capacity to 5,000 but “appears difficult to justify based on the anticipated market demand” for events it might serve. Vision 2020 assumes the facility could attract 50 concerts and events annually, but the consultants research indicates that “a maximum of 20 to 24 concerts annually appear to be the upper boundary for this type of building.” Last year, Hall D hosted 6 concerts.

Electrical and mechanical upgrades as well as a roof replacement would all be required for Hall D in the next 2-4 years. “Without a long term tenant (e.g. minor sports franchise), enhancements to Hall D cannot be justified in the immediate term.” Again the report suggests a higher cost estimate than Northlands did, at “$38.7 million within -10% to +30%.”

Urban Festival site

Recognizing that the site “may provide a unique opportunity to the region” the report raises major concerns about the feasibility of the idea. Industry data suggests there may be market demand in the long-term, but “it is unclear if there is sufficient market demand to achieve the necessary revenue to make the site profitable.” Interviews conducted with local festival organizers suggest “there is not significant interest in relocating to the Northlands site at this time.”

K-Days

In general, the report highlights a lack of detail supporting the idea and says that further investigation would be required. “The updated cost estimate provided by Northlands of $83.6 million cannot be verified as accurate with any certainty,” the report says.

Residential Opportunities

Vision 2020 proposes 3,195 residential units in a mix of concrete high-rise buildings, wood frame low/mid-rise buildings, and townhomes. It anticipates absorption of 540 units per year, a figure the report says is unrealistic. The consultants estimated that Northlands “could reasonably capture at most 15-20% of apartment demand in the city’s mature neighbourhoods” which would mean demand for, “at most, 100-150 multi-family apartment units per year on average from 2015 to 2035.” There does appear to be “market demand for 400 beds to serve Concordia University” but the report notes that in addition to a lack of funding, “the economics of a concrete high-rise for student housing that assumes market rates for land is difficult to achieve.”

The Future of Northlands

When Vision 2020 was released earlier this year, Northlands suggested it would cost $165 million. The City puts the estimated cost at more than $230 million. Northlands deserves some credit for thinking big and putting something on the table, but Vision 2020 just isn’t realistic and will not happen. The future of Northlands will be something different.

Asked if the decision to build the new arena is the root of all of Northlands’ problems, the mayor said that was an oversimplification of a complex situation. “This has hastened a conversation that I think would have happened anyway,” he said.

mayor don iveson

Mayor Iveson indicated he will propose a merger of the EXPO Centre and Shaw Conference Centre next week when Council discusses the report. “This report provides a wake up call that the time for integration is now,” he said. “I believe that if we look at bringing the two conference centres together under a shared events authority, we will get better tourism and economic development results for our city.” He wouldn’t speculate on whether Northlands, EEDC, or a new organization should become that shared events authority.

This is an idea that is long overdue. It regularly comes up in discussions about the various facilities and organizations, and came up again earlier this month when Chris LaBossiere suggested a merger could be a way forward for Northlands. To his credit, Northlands CEO Tim Reid is open to the idea. “One of the things that has never made sense to me in our city is why we have two very large conference, convention and trade facilities that are run under different entities,” he told Metro.

Council will discuss the report at a Special City Council Meeting on August 31. You can dig into the full analysis here.

The Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to Rexall Place

Tonight the Edmonton Oilers played their final game in the building they have called home since 1974. Though its future remains uncertain, Rexall Place has been an important part of Edmonton for more than 40 years.

Farewell Rexall Place

The subject of its own, drawn out arena debate, Rexall Place was eventually built in the early 1970s. It opened on November 10, 1974 and the Oilers played their first game in the building that night. They won that game over the Cleveland Crusaders by a score of 4-1. For more on the history of Rexall Place, check out this great deep dive from David Staples.

Farewell Rexall Place

In addition to tonight’s celebrations at the building itself, the Oilers and the City held a rally in Churchill Square today. All former Oilers were invited to attend, and more than 100 did. The event was hosted by City Manager Linda Cochrane and was a nice opportunity for fans to join with the Oilers to say thanks to Rexall Place.

Farewell Rexall Place

Mayor Don Iveson, Jason Strudwick, Ryan Smyth, and Mark Messier all shared a few memories and tributes to Rexall Place.

Mark Messier

I thought it was very fitting that the crowd did the wave today at the rally given that Rexall Place is the venue in which the wave was perfected.

The Oilers have been preparing for this all season long, of course. Here’s what they had to say about leaving the building earlier today:

“Hours before opening faceoff, media members and arena workers flooded the halls, snapping photos of the old barn. The current players laughed at the fond memories of their home building, while lamenting missed opportunities in recent seasons. The alumni shared stories with the media and with each other, some serious and others hilarious tellings of locker room happenings. The mood at Rexall Place’s final pre-game morning was more joyful and reminiscent than sad, but it is sure to be an emotional evening of goodbyes for all those with ties to a historic venue.”

You can see the pre-game, in-game, and post-game videos and other media here.

Farewell Rexall Place

Northlands itself also had some positive things to say about the building today:

“On behalf of our board, staff and volunteers we want to thank the Edmonton Oilers for an amazing partnership,” said Tim Reid, Northlands President and CEO.

They also pointed out that while the Oilers won’t be playing at Rexall Place anymore, there are still other events on the schedule including the 2017 Ford World Men’s Curling Championships next April which is the final qualifying event for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. But for pro hockey at least, tonight was the end.

Oilers Superfan

For the current team, next season and the brand new Rogers Place can’t come soon enough. It hasn’t been a great season, but at least they ended on a high note tonight with a 6-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

You can see more photos from the lunch time rally here.

Northlands Arena Strategy Committee Final Report Released

Today the Northlands Arena Strategy Committee released its final report which includes recommendations on the future of Rexall Place for the consideration of the Northlands Board of Directors. This brings our six month process to an end and I think provides the Board with some actionable, useful insight and analysis regarding what to do with Rexall Place. This is not the end of the road, but I think it is a major step toward resolving this important challenge for our city.

Rexall Place

You can download the full report in PDF here (warning: it’s large). You can also download the more reasonably sized report highlights in PDF here.

We are making two recommendations. Our primary recommendation is as follows:

“The NASC has highlighted that the current scenario surrounding a conflict oriented and competitive model specific to major sports and entertainment venues within the City of Edmonton has stalled progress; there is a need for a new approach. It is recommended that the Northlands Board of Directors consider a collaborative solution for the Northlands arena (Rexall Place) and define this possibility as two party or three party potential outcomes.”

Basically, if there’s a way to find a collaborative model that works, do so. The two party outcome would be a way for Northlands and the Oilers to work together to use Rexall Place in a way that is complementary to Rogers Place. The three party outcome would be an agreement between Northlands, the City of Edmonton, and the Oilers to find an alternative use for the building.

Fortunately, I think significant progress has been made on building the relationships necessary for a collaborative model to work. Here’s what Committee Chair Andrew Ross wrote in his summary (which you’ll find in the report):

“The NASC worked collaboratively and while we did not always agree we respectfully debated to find the right solutions; this final report has achieved consensus of the group. An unintended outcome developed throughout this process is the significant progress made to repair previously strained relationships between members of the Northlands Board of Directors and key stakeholders at the City of Edmonton and the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG). Special thanks goes to Tim Reid, President and Chief Executive Officer of Northlands; Bob Nicholson, Vice Chairman of the OEG; Simon Farbrother, City Manager; and Mayor Don Iveson who have been willing to take a forward looking approach in the best interest of our city and the sustainability of the Northlands organization.”

If that collaborative approach does not work out, then we feel that the worst thing we could do is nothing. And so our secondary recommendation is vigorous redevelopment:

“If a redevelopment strategy is implemented the Northlands arena (Rexall Place) should be demolished and the land repurposed in a way that would complement the surrounding neighbourhood, act as a catalyst to stimulate development growth, and support the sustainability of Northlands.”

Though we did look at other models, it became clear to us that most of them are not desirable. Nobody wins in a competitive model, going dark would be highly detrimental to the community, and as mentioned, kicking the can down the road is possibly the worst decision that could be made.

The next step now is for the Northlands Board to decide which direction they want to go. I expect they’ll need some time to digest the report and its findings, and with the AGM and election coming up at the end of the month, it’ll likely be the new board that deals with the decision. Northlands has already been undergoing some strategic review and planning and I expect that work to continue into the fall.

I have really enjoyed my time on the Committee. The timelime we were working with was aggressive, but I think that brought an appropriate level of urgency to the process. I certainly learned a lot over the last six months, and I hope that I have made a meaningful contribution. I have quite a bit to say about Rexall Place and this whole challenge which I will share in the weeks ahead. For now, check out the report and let me know what you think!

What will happen to Rexall Place?

With a new downtown arena, what will happen to Rexall Place?

It’s a question that has been asked many times over the last few years, and one which remains unanswered. But that could finally change next spring.

On Halloween, Northlands publicly announced the formation of its Arena Strategy Committee. Comprised of 17 members of the community, the committee is tasked with delivering a recommendation on the future of Rexall Place to the Northlands board by April 15, 2015. Here’s what Northlands’ new President & CEO Tim Reid had to say about the news:

“The opening of Rogers Place will change the competitive market place for Rexall Place. We need a short and long-term plan that meets Northlands’ objectives while identifying and assessing viable opportunities for the future use of Rexall Place and its site.”

That’s a very different message than the one delivered in March 2008 when then-Northlands-board-chair Jerry Bouma ruled out the possibility of keeping Rexall Place open if a new arena was built. “We can’t have two competing large-scale facilities,” he said at the time. A few years later, City Manager Simon Farbrother also suggested that Edmonton cannot sustain two arenas. Most people I have talked to feel the same way.

We have seen a similar scenario play out before. Eight years after Northlands Coliseum opened in 1974, the Edmonton Gardens was demolished. The situation is different today, of course – Rexall Place is one of the busiest arenas in the world whereas the Gardens was condemned at one point – but you can’t help but wonder, is that the fate of Rexall Place too?

Northlands, it seems, isn’t as sure as it once was. And it has struck this committee to help remove that uncertainty.

Rexall Place Planet
Rexall Place Planet by Kurt Bauschardt

Here are the committee members, with the “area of expertise” they represent in brackets (copied from the press release for posterity):

  • Mrs. Laura Gadowsky, Chair, Northlands Board of Directors (who is an ex officio member of all committees)
  • Mr. Harold Kingston, First Vice Chair, Northlands Board of Directors
  • Mr. Burke Perry, Second Vice Chair, Northlands Board of Directors
  • Mr. Andrew Ross, Arena Strategy Committee Chair, Northlands Board of Directors
  • Mr. Gerry Yuen, Northlands Board of Governors
  • Mayor Don Iveson, City of Edmonton
  • Mr. Dave Quest, MLA, Government of Alberta
  • Mr. Tom Ruth, President & CEO, Edmonton Airports (Industry and Commerce)
  • Mr. Dave Mowat, President & CEO, ATB Financial (Audit and Finance)
  • Mr. Brad Ferguson, President & CEO, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (Economic Development)
  • Ms. Jerri Cairns, Vice Chair, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors (Industry and Commerce)
  • Mr. Ashif Mawji, Founder & CEO, NPO Zero (Audit and Finance)
  • Mr. Len Rhodes, President & CEO, Edmonton Eskimos Football Club (Sports and Entertainment)
  • Mr. Stephen Petasky, President & Founder, Luxus Group (Industry and Commerce)
  • Mr. Ray Block, Vice President of Administration and CFO, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (Arts, Culture and Education)
  • Mr. Mack D. Male, Blogger of MasterMaq’s Blog and software developer/entrepreneur (Youth and Community Groups)
  • Ms. Geraldine Bidulock, Private Business Owner (Rural)

When I offered my help to Tim in his new role as President & CEO of Northlands, I had no idea that I would hear from him so soon. I am honored to have been asked to work with such a diverse and impressive group of community leaders. I know this is a big commitment, and I’m looking forward to making a big contribution.

The committee will further split into at least two subcommittees: one focused on examining other buildings in other cities, and one focused on public engagement. I will be very active on the public engagement side of things. We’ll be working with RC Strategies on that. Our committee will work to gather information and to encourage dialogue.

I am approaching this challenge with an open mind. As a committee, we don’t have an outcome in mind. Instead, we want to understand the range of possible outcomes, evaluate the pros and cons of each, gather input from the public on them, and ultimately try to come to some sort of decision about which is the best one for Edmonton.

So what happens when we’ve come to a decision? Our committee will deliver a recommendation to the Northlands board of directors in early April. The plan is for that recommendation to be made public on April 15. What happens next? We’re not sure. The board could adopt the recommendation, they could reject it, or they could let it sit. Northlands will hold its AGM at the end of April, so potentially one third of the board membership could be changing. The current board may simply decide to let the new board deal with our recommendation. We’ll have to see.

Stay tuned for details on the public consultation opportunities we’ll be facilitating. There will be opportunities to share your thoughts on the future of Rexall Place both in person and online. Of course, I want to hear from you directly and as soon as possible – feel free to leave a comment below or to get in touch. I’ll do my best to blog updates here as appropriate. It’s going to be an interesting few months.

Can new President & CEO Tim Reid help Northlands find its way?

Northlands announced today that Tim Reid will step into the role of President and CEO effective September 15, 2014. He takes over from CFO and VP of Corporate Services Sharilee Fossum, who stepped into the role in January when Richard Andersen resigned. Tim is coming off a successful stint in Fort McMurray and inherits an organization facing great uncertainty about its future.

Tim Reid

It was just over a year ago that Tim became CEO of the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo (RRC), the organization responsible designing, building, stewarding, and operating “several state-of-the-art community recreation, sport and event facilities and venues” in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Prior to that, he was COO of MacDonald Island Park Corporation, precursor to the RRC. Tim will ease into his new role, remaining with the RRC in a supporting capacity for the next six months. The RRC had five projects in the design or construction phase as of January 2014, with a total budget of more than $360 million, including the $127 million Shell Place, slated to open in January 2015.

Tim takes over at a difficult time for Northlands. The organization seems as uncertain as ever about its future, especially in the face of major changes to its core businesses. Will it be an organization focused on agriculture, one focused on meetings & conventions, or one focused on sports & entertainment? Will it find the courage to narrow its focus, or will Northlands continue to straddle three very different industries?

These questions are all the more pertinent now that momentum is firmly behind Rogers Place, the new downtown arena. Despite repeated statements from Northlands officials over the years suggesting they’ll continue operating Rexall Place as-is, the fact is that losing the Edmonton Oilers will have a significant effect on the financial health of the organization. And no one knows if Edmonton can support two large concert venues.

There’s no question that Tim has had a positive impact on Fort McMurray, but can he find similar success here in Edmonton? Granted he doesn’t start for another month, but Tim’s first interviews with the media don’t provide much confidence.

Tim told Metro today that he understands the need to figure out a future for Rexall Place. “We’re trying to put together the data as we speak, so we know exactly what happens when the Oilers and their properties move to another arena,” he said. However, he went on to say that Northlands needs to “find out what opportunities there are for growth on the agriculture side, on the convention and hosting side.”

The downtown arena wasn’t decided yesterday of course – things have been in motion for quite some time now. Are we really to believe that Northlands is only now running the numbers on Rexall Place without the Oilers? I fully appreciate that Tim hasn’t even started yet, so he probably hasn’t seen all the data. He should have just said so. He told reporters that Northlands need to work with the City, Oilers, and Katz Group, but gave no details.

Edmonton Rexall Place

His second comment about finding other opportunities is potentially more concerning, especially coupled with his stated vision for Northlands:

“We want to be the heart of Edmonton and the place where the community goes to celebrate together.”

As a vision it is certainly concise and inspirational, but it’s also vague and generic. It doesn’t say anything about what Northlands is or does. The organization’s 2013 Annual Report lists agriculture, entertainment, trade shows, concerts, horse racing, casino, and conferences as the businesses that Northlands operates in. Its “looking forward” statement is just as confusing:

“As Northlands moves into 2014, we will continue to provide Edmonton and the Capital Region with the best in events and entertainment. We will capitalize on our role as an urban agricultural society by partnering with like-minded organizations to enhance our already robust local food market. As Edmonton’s destination of choice for entertainment, we will continue to bring some of the world’s best performers to our arena. We will build our visitor base for all of our venues by showcasing Northlands as the destination for entertainment, events and the community.”

Founded as an agricultural society 135 years ago, Northlands has never been willing to fully commit to entertainment, even after bringing in Richard Anderson from San Diego where he was GM of PETCO Park and Executive Vice President of the San Diego Padres. Over the years, members of the board have differed greatly on how much importance Northlands should give to its agricultural initiatives. The organization’s roots might be in agriculture, but it’s sporting that defines Northlands today, at least financially.

Without the $21 million that Northlands received in grant revenue in 2013, it would have run a $19.7 million deficit. Its four main businesses – Northlands Park, Rexall Place, Agriculture and Signature Events, and EXPO Centre – accounted for $136 million in revenue. Of that, Northlands Park (horse racing and casino) accounted for 43% and Rexall Place accounted for 28%.

With declining horse racing revenues and the likely loss of business due to competition with Rogers Place, it’s clear that Northlands needs to make a move. But talk of reinvention is easier said than done. With 19 members on its volunteer board of directors and an 18-person board of governors, Northlands currently has a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Tim certainly has his work cut out for him!

I think it’s great that Northlands was able to find someone relatively close to home to be its new leader. Tim has been in Alberta for years and is already familiar with the political climate here. For all its faults, Northlands remains extremely connected to the community. Last year alone, more than 1,100 volunteers donated more than 21,000 hours of their time and Northlands supported more than 80 charitable organizations, investing “more than $1.25 million in cash and value into the community.” I hope he does find success at Northlands and is able to have a positive impact on our city.

Tim, welcome to Edmonton, good luck, and in true Make Something Edmonton fashion, how can I help?

UPDATE: Here’s a post from McMurray Musings’ Theresa Wells on Tim and his leadership abilities.

Northlands by the numbers

Today Northlands made a presentation to City Council. Chair Andrew Huntley and President Richard Andersen talked about the impact that the organization has in Edmonton, and answered questions related to the proposed downtown arena. Here’s an at-a-glance look at Northlands:

Most of those numbers come from the 2009 Northlands Annual Report (PDF). Northlands breaks its business into four areas: Northlands Major Events, Agriculture, Racing and Gaming, and Sales, Hospitality and Client Services. Racing and Gaming accounts for both the most revenue and the most expense – that area of the business lost over $7 million in 2009.

As David Staples noted, I don’t know how they get to 2500+ events.

Some other numbers, from the presentation this morning:

  • $5.8 million is the base cost of operating Rexall Place each year
  • $10.9 million is the cost of operating Rexall Place if you include hockey
  • $17.1 million is the cost of operating Rexall Place after including all other events
  • $1.1 million is the amount the Oilers contribute towards those operating costs
  • $2.2 million is the amount the City of Edmonton contributes toward those operating costs each year (adjusted for inflation)

The Oilers pay Northlands $1 to rent Rexall Place – that agreement is set to expire on June 30, 2014. Northlands pays the City of Edmonton $1 to rent the land its facilities are located on – that agreement is set to expire in 2034.

You can learn more about Northlands here, and you can see their answers to City Council’s questions here (PDF).

Edmonton Oilers Arena Feasibility Report – Link Roundup

edmonton oilers Earlier this week, the nine-member committee studying the feasibility of building a new hockey arena in Edmonton released their report. It contains no surprises, and recommends that if a new facility is to be built, it should be built downtown. I’m sure you’ve heard all about it on the news, but there are lots of excellent blog posts on the story that should not be missed. Here they are, with quotes.

From Covered in Oil:

The other question, whether a new arena would be better off in another part of the City will have to go unanswered, as the Feasibility Committee didn’t seem to even bother to look anywhere else.

From Grandinite:

If I get the underlying logic of this development, bringing people downtown will bring in cash. but that cash will flow out of the area if the owners do not live downtown. Sure, money will be spent at restaurants and casinos, but where do the profits go?

From Colby Cosh:

I’m not too clear after reading the summary just what is wrong with the existing Rexall Place. I was looking forward to some clear public explanation of this, but all we’ve been given is a lot of wind about “downtown revitalization.”

From The Battle of Alberta:

Dear Mr. Lowe,

We already have a hockey shrine in Edmonton. It’s called the Northlands Coliseum. You might remember it. You won five Stanley Cups there.

A arena without a history of accomplishment is not a shrine. It’s a mall with seats.

From Fighting for Taxpayers:

Dr. Brad Humphreys, the foremost expert on the economic benefits of professional sport teams and arenas has proven that there is not an economic growth, but merely a shift of where the money is spent.

From daveberta.ca:

Of course I want Edmonton’s downtown to become vibrant, but building a giant hockey rink won’t automatically put Edmonton in a position to rival downtown Montreal or New York (like some of the article’s have alluded). I’m still not convinced that spending upwards of $450 million (plus land costs) on an arena that will draw the suburbs downtown for a couple hours 2-3 nights a week is what will revitalize downtown.

From Alberta: Get Rich or Die Trying:

There will be a new arena and it will be downtown, any alternatives have pretty much been steamrolled over by the municipal government and the Edmonton media. There will be public funding, not direct tax increases, but by other means, and the province will give nothing.

From A Blog Of Pucks:

It would be an 18,000 seat 450 Million dollar arena. That’s great but once again I’ll ask the difficult question: Is this really going to make the wives like living in Edmonton any better? The committee better ask Pronger’s better half first.

And finally, this one isn’t a blog but an article at CBC today:

A new downtown Edmonton arena to replace Rexall Place could threaten one of the biggest annual events in the city, say officials with the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

The owners of Rexall Place, Edmonton Northlands, are ruling out the possibility of keeping it open as is, if a new arena is built.

“We can’t have two competing large-scale facilities,” Jerry Bouma, chair of the board, said Wednesday.

Also, be sure to check out this interview with Brad Humphreys.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Stay tuned.

Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds in Edmonton

Around this time last night I was at Rexall Place to see Justin Timberlake. I was so excited for the concert! Jane, Megan and I got tickets the moment they went on sale months ago, which was good because it sold out almost immediately. We ended up selling two, and Jane’s friend Sarah came so there was four of us in all. That’s right, three gals and one guy. Fairly representative of the audience I’d say – there were far more women than men. Age was much more distributed though.

The place was absolutely packed! And keep in mind this was a concert-in-the-round, which means all 16,000+ seats were filled. Ours were really good, and Jane’s camera worked pretty well in the dark, so here’s a decent shot that she snapped:

This is probably the biggest concert I’ve ever been to, and it was nothing if not a spectacle. Velvet Revolver was quite the show as well, but even it was nothing compared to JT. The lights, stage, screens, smoke, dancers, instruments, everything, it was just awesome. I was really impressed. The one thing that surprised me was how adult-oriented the show was. I remember seeing a few younger kids with their parents, and I’m sure the parents weren’t thrilled with the mostly naked dancers or the heavy gyrating and sexually suggestive dancing.

I think one of the reasons the concert was so good was the venue. As hockey fans will know, Rexall Place is fairly unique. Justin remarked that Edmonton was the loudest crowd of the tour, and even if he was just saying that at first, the resulting noise would have made it true. It was LOUD! Seeing thousands of cameras flash at once was pretty neat, as was seeing thousands of cell phones swaying for the ballad. I really can’t imagine a new hockey arena being any better than Rexall Place…anyway, back to the concert.

I would have been happy if Justin had only sung “What Goes Around…” and called it a night, but fortunately he sang quite a few songs. I particularly liked his rendition of “LoveStoned”. And for the “intermission” there was a special guest – Timbaland! I had heard he wasn’t going to be there, so it was definitely a surprise to see him join JT on stage. He did a number of popular songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and a few Nelly Furtado songs, and he did the obligatory Aaliyah tribute. He also performed his popular single, “The Way I Are”.

One of the songs Timbaland used in his mix was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and it really stuck out for me. I think it’s because Justin incorporates a lot of what made MJ successful into his show. Lots of dancing? Check. Fancy footwork? Check. Distinct fashion? Check. Fedora hat? Check. Falsetto? Check. Crotch grab? Check. One needs to be careful when making comparisons to Michael Jackson, and I’m not saying that JT is the new MJ, but I do think he’s smart for adopting some of the trademark aspects of Jackson’s performances.

Justin came back to perform “(Another Song) All Over Again” for the encore, and as he was finishing, a young woman appeared out of nowhere on stage. The security guard looked like he was going to tackle her (how did she sneak by in the first place?) but Justin stuck up his hand, and proceeded to handle the situation extremely well. He got her to help finish the song, but also took the opportunity to call her crazy and tell her “you scared the shit out of me, you know that right?” Heh.

All the dancers, musicians, and backup singers joined JT on stage at the very end for a big group bow which I thought was kinda cool. Then left alone on stage, Justin ran from side to side and waved to the crowd. Much better than some shows I’ve been to, where the performer just disappears.

I had a great time, and I’d wouldn’t hesitate if I got the chance to see JT in concert again!

UPDATE: For those of you with Facebook, this video that Jane uploaded of JT dancing during “My Love” is pretty wicked.

5 Things Edmonton Should Invest In Before a New Arena

Post ImageRumors of a new hockey arena in Edmonton have been floating around since at least November of last year. The latest news, released yesterday, is that a new “arena feasibility” committee has been struck to determine whether such a project should go ahead, and if so, where, for how much, and who should foot the bill. Jerry Bouma, president of Northlands and a member of the new committee, said:

“You have to build a world-class facility. The Oilers have already said they need a new arena.”

I’m not sure there is anyone on the committee who is against the idea of a rink. So much for the word “feasibility” – it looks like we’ve moved past that. Seems also that most of the members are convinced it should be downtown. I’m all for revitalizing our city’s downtown core, as I’ve stated before, but I am not sure if a new arena is the best idea. There are good arguments on both sides of the debate. For some good discussion, read: here, here, here, here, and here.

Either way, I don’t think taxpayers should foot the entire bill. Certainly the city should contribute something if a new arena is built, but I think it should be the Oilers that pick up the bulk of the expenses. In my opinion, there are better things that Edmonton should be investing in (these are in no particular order):

  1. South Edmonton Common. Talk about congestion! Seriously, we need an overpass/underpass at 23rd avenue and Gateway Blvd. Especially once the new business park just to the south of SEC is built.
  2. LRT. Finish it faster! Or keep it on track, and add a West Edmonton Mall to Downtown line. I think an East-West line would be great for the city, especially if it were to go to WEM.
  3. Potholes. There are far too many of them around the city. What happened to that research with rubber/asphalt roads? Did it work or not? Let’s get the roads fixed!
  4. Startups. Alberta just isn’t the best place to start a company, oil & gas related or not. Everything I have learned suggests that Ontario, B.C., and other provinces ofter much better incentives for entrepreneurs. Certainly this is a provincial issue, but there’s no reason that Edmonton can’t get the ball rolling. Let’s help individuals take advantage of the hot economy.
  5. Housing. Speaking of our hot economy, how about more money for housing? You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about the housing crunch in our city.

Or how about making our city cleaner? Five Canadian cities made this Forbes list, Edmonton was not one of them. And don’t forget about the ring-road project that continues. Obviously you could add new schools, hospitals, and other “usual suspects” to the list. I am tempted to mention city-wide wifi too, because I think it would have a positive impact.

The point is that a new arena benefits the Oilers first, and Edmonton second. Funding should follow that order. I’m not against a new arena (I have to admit I am a bit excited about the prospect) but I am against it being funded entirely (or even mostly) by taxpayers.