So it seems that there is an all day session of City Council tomorrow for the final public consultation and debate their involvement in the proposed downtown arena.
If we were a betting man (we are) we would think that this deal will move forward after tomorrow’s session (it will) but that there will be the small matter of a multi-million dollar funding gap will need to be addressed (it does.)
We’d also bet the majority of those who will ultimately end up picking up a large portion of the tab will remain on the sidelines content to let "others handle their bizness for them."
THE PROJECT SO FAR
Proposing large scale development of internationally recognizable landmarks often brings a City together with a common goal of leapfrogging their town into an exciting tomorrow. At some point developers in Las Vegas were able to see past its state as a tiny outpost in the middle of the Nevada Desert and began conceiving of a tourist mecca that could generate tens of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue for the City.
Similarly the shift in the Dubai to diversify from a oil based economy to one that’s service and tourism focused started with a single series of buildings and expanded into one of the more startling development projects in the world.
Now certainly there are many differences between Edmonton, Vegas and Dubai. Gangsters and the mob built the first iteration of Vegas for example, where as the Sheik in Dubai hardly has to worry about consulting the public when he wants to erect a structure – tax dollars be damned.
But the case can be made that large scale development in most cities begins with an early project which kicks off substantial development in every direction. These two examples were cities in the desert that could not have been any more different. But they both saw an opportunity to build more, become something better – something different than they were at that point.
Is this the case with the popular view in Edmonton?
NOT SO MUCH
Despite the fact we lie squarely in one of the fastest growing economic corridors in the world, this economic development has occurred largely to the South and the North of us and E-town has been passed over by any sort of leap forward. And almost as a vote of confidence in our continued stagnation, property prices have risen in most major Canadian cities these past 3 years – but not in Edmonton.
Sadly the highest profile commercial development since West Edmonton Mall has largely failed to capture the hearts and minds of your average non-hockey fan in Edmonton. Politicians – quick to point to a myriad of solvable problems, the reclusiveness of Daryl Katz and the potential problems of funding a project this large – have been largely in the ‘opposed’ camp.
As elected individuals tasked with improving Edmonton one would think that at least a couple of them would have stuck their necks out for the project and planted their flag firmly in the Pro-Arena Camp for the simple reason that development on this scale comes along once in a politicians lifetime. Only the Mayor of Edmonton seems interested in exploring options to move this forward and he should receive a standing ovation.
NOT THE CASE
The Katz Group have not done themselves any favours in their quest to do the project as a public-private partnership. Failing to have an inspired or unique arena design and failing to build much of a groundswell of support it is clear that Daryl Katz has not made his billions in building Downtown Arena Development Projects.
Still, he too should be given a Gold Star for trying to do anything of note in this here northern Canadian City. It has been a largely thankless job and despite whatever shortcomings in their courting process of City Hall they deserve a hand for standing up for development in Edmonton.
Like it or not the Oilers –and by default the regularly televised arena – are Edmonton’s largest calling card in North America. A gleaming new arena standing as a testament to Edmonton’s commitment to fight its way back among the top cities in Canada would be regularly featured on millions of TV sets around the continent for years to come. It would send a message.
Building a new Downtown Arena won’t reverse the brain drain that this City has seen in the past 30 years. It won’t attract new companies to downtown core, nor will it fill the potholes outside your house. But it could be the beginning of a new cycle of development and growth in Edmonton’s history. In the case of the Downtown Arena we must collectively turn toward a path of development, change and building a downtown core that can attract further development of all sorts in the coming generation.
Bringing the largest entertainment district in Edmonton to the centre of the City would be a great start. The new arena would generate millions of new tourism dollars for the City, employ thousands during its construction and onward and would be a tremendous place for Albertans to congregate for business or pleasure.
The vocal minority of “Anti-Arena/Anti Daryl Katz/I hate everything” types have monopolized the media on the subject almost since the project started being whispered about a couple of years ago. Those of us who are pro-arena have remained far more silent either due to apathy, indifference or a charming confidence the deal will get done without significant public support.
We strongly suggest you get involved in any way you see fit if you are in favour of going forward with the arena. Not because you are an Oilers fan or because you think “Billionaires should get free stuff.” But because you are a Citizen of Edmonton/Alberta/Canada and understand that civic rebounding needs a rally point. This arena could be it.
For Edmonton’s sake – we hope it is it.
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
A public hearing on the funding framework for the proposed arena will be held on October 25, 2011 in Council Chamber at City Hall, starting at 9:30am. The public hearing will provide another opportunity for members of the public to voice their opinion on the proposed funding framework.
Information on registering to speak is available at www.edmonton.ca/meetings. The public hearing may draw a large audience. The River Valley and Heritage Rooms in City Hall will be set up with live streaming video for overflow viewing.