At 1:30 yesterday afternoon, Mayor Stephen Mandel addressed the near capacity audience at a hearing on the proposed Downtown Arena, depicted above in a crudely drawn 2008 mockup from an article outling the equally crude plans by OilersNation own Wanye.
Mandel tried to lighten the mood to start the afternoon’s proceedings announcing “for those who haven’t been here before there is no clapping, no cheering or screaming. This will be a very interesting afternoon. Let’s go.”
I’m sure he didn’t expect it to last over four hours, but the Downtown Arena is a hot topic and there were lots of questions. John Karvellas, executive vice-president and general counsel for the Katz group did most of the talking and answered the majority of the questions, but Daryl Katz did address the Mayor and councilors right away.
“I know we haven’t always made it easy and I’ll be the first to apologize for that,” stated Katz in his opening statement. Katz surprised me with how passionate he was when he spoke. I sensed he truly is proud to be an Edmontonian, but he also has a goal to make this arena and surrounding entertainment district world class.
He mentioned that he was approached by the city in April of 2008, before he officially owned the Oilers, about a downtown arena and he has been focused on that ever since. He then committed to putting $100 million towards the rink and another $100 million towards the entertainment district.
I thought Katz was well-spoken and passionate and I bet if he addressed the fans once or twice a year that would help his cause. He doesn’t like the spotlight, and I respect that, but he owns a team that in his words, “Is a major part of the identity of Edmonton ,” so he needs to needs to realize that the fans want to feel like they know the man who runs this “Identity”.
He also mentioned the Oilers would sign a location agreement, meaning the likelihood of them leaving the city is minimal.
However, later in the proceedings Karvelles stated the Oilers and Oil Kings would not play in a refurbished Rexall Place . Their lease ends in the fall of 2014. Ted Tanner, executive director of real estate development of AEG opened up with a promotional video of AEG voice by Morgan Freeman.
It was meant to excite you and make you feel that AEG can build an arena, and the surrounding area, so exquisite that the entire world would want to come see it. The Staples Centre in LA and O2 in London were their prime examples in the AEG portfolio.
No doubt these are world class facilities, and if Edmonton ends up with something similar we’d be pretty ecstatic. The references to hosting the Grammys and being part of great movie production were off-base for this hearing, and I thought the video didn’t add much to the overall conversation.
The other contentious topic brought up by the Katz Group was how the Oilers currently don’t receive any non-hockey revenue at Rexall Place . They are the only NHL team with this agreement and noted this is a major reason why they have lost millions the past few seasons.
Reports suggest they lost four million last year, and then an additional three million went to the NHL subsidy program.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
After the Katz Group was done their presentation each councilor had five minutes to ask questions. Jane Batty went first followed by Don Iveson. Batty showed her hockey knowledge and gave Katz the Lady Byng award for his generous commitment of $4 million (they included his original purchase of the team).
Her questions asked for more clarification on certain points, but Iveson came out swinging. He asked why this couldn’t be privately funded like the previous four arenas that were built in Canada . Bob Black, executive vice-president of sports and entertainment for the Katz Group informed him that only Toronto made that model work, while in Montreal , Vancouver and Ottawa the original investor suffered massive losses. “So you are asking the city to take on most of the risk,” replied Iveson.
I think it is imperative in this process that the city asks the tough questions. I’m in favour of a new facility, and I believe we will get one, but the city needs must do their due diligence and investigate every turn.
A FAIR DEAL. IS THERE SUCH A THING?
My one concern is the thought process that we need a deal that is fair. What constitutes a fair deal?
I am always interested in the notion of “fairness”. Do you think 100 people could ever agree on what is “fair?” Or would fair have everything to do with your point of view?
Many who oppose the arena, and even some who support it, keep stating there has to be a fair deal. “If Katz puts up 25% of the arena cost, then he should only get 25% of the revenue,” is a statement I’ve heard on my show numerous times the past few months.
In a very general and simplistic fashion that could be considered fair, but I don’t think it is that simple. What is the true value of the Oilers to Edmonton? Can we put an accurate value on how much having an NHL team helps the economy? I’ve yet to see an exact report, but if you ask people in Winnipeg they say it is significant.
Some think it isn’t fair if Katz makes too much money off of this deal, but what is too much.
The fact is Katz owns the Oilers. He paid $200 million for them and he has the right to make as much money as he can.
That is how it works in our capitalist society.
Some of you will say that is fair, while others will claim it isn’t. And what is this automatic assumption that business is unfair, always takes unfair advantage of people, and if you have made a lot of money you must be a crook. What’s up with that? This thought process really stumps me.
I honestly believe if Katz addressed the fans they would naturally trust him more, and after listening to him today I think he would come across just fine once or twice a year. I don’t think he has to be front and centre all the time, and it isn’t in his personality to do so, but if he had done so in the past I guarantee some fans wouldn’t be so hesitant to believe in his downtown arena vision.
FAR FROM OVER
Near the end of the hearing on Wednesday, City Council agreed to enter into negotiations with both the Katz Group and Northlands on the financing and operations of a Downtown Arena and entertainment district. However, these discussions must exclude increases in property taxes.
Council also informed city administration to set up a community consultation process and prepare a report on the financial impacts the new downtown site would have on Northlands. And Northlands will be allowed to respond to this report at a future hearing.
- Oilers netminder Nikolai Khabibulin’s court case was postponed again on Wednesday. He and his agent have two options now. They can stand before a judge with no jury in late August or wait until September 29th and face a jury. All this does is muddy the goaltending waters of the Oilers. Regardless of what happens in his case, the probability of both Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk coming to camp seems likely.
- And who was the arbitrator in the Clarke MacArthur arbitration ruling??? MacArthur was granted a one-year, $2.4 million contract after a scoring a career-high 16 goals and 35 points. One year with 35 points gets you $2.5 million? Was Mike Milbury ruling on this case? Gilbert Brule tallied 17 goals and 37 points last year, and he is two years younger than MacArthur. I bet the Oilers try even harder to get him signed before his August arbitration date, unless they want to pay him $2.5 million or more.
- And I wonder what Mason Raymond is thinking right now. The Vancouver winger goes to arbitration on July 26th. He tallied 25 goals and 53 points last year. If this ruling is any indication he’ll be worth $3.6 million. Absolutely ridiculous.