D-DAY FOR THE ARENA

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

Go to City Hall tomorrow and have your say:

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.

  • S.Tambellini

    If you want to read something with points, counterpoints, concessions and citations I would recommend this letter from Scott Hennig.

    http://bit.ly/vIkrXj

    Great breakdown of the issue and proves that you can love the Oilers and Edmonton and still hate this deal. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

      I read that letter. It’s good to read the opposing argument too.

      From what I get the letters stance is, basically, wait for a better deal to come. Kind of like a hockey player holding out for a better contract.

  • Lego

    I have always been in favour of the downtown arena, that is until the mayor and Katz returned from New York with the new framework that essentially has Katz renting the arena for 3.5 mil/year. The city buys the land, the city funds the construction, the city covers any cost overruns, Katz gets to design the building, Katz gets all revenue generated by the arena including non hockey events.

    If Katz doesn’t want to put up any money upfront then the city should treat him as a renter and charge him rent (at a reasonable rate) for the nights the Oilers use the arena, heck we can even give him all proceeds from concessions and parking on hockey nights. All other event revenues for non hockey events go to the city. The city gets to design the building.

    Katz gets a new home for his team, the city gets a new showpiece for downtown revitalization that actually can pay for itself over time.

    Now if Katz wants to put the 100 mil upfront then I think he deserves a larger portion of revenue and a bigger say. But the way the current deal is structured no way.

  • Clyde Frog

    The idea of relocating where people live has to start with amenities, such as the development around the arena.

    Other issues is the way the city handles redevelopment permits of the non-commercial and commercial properties. IE How cheap/easy it is for a developer to purchase a block of houses/apartments, obtain permits for redevelopment and obtain labour to perform the work. Saying a new arena with a entertainment complex doesn’t factor into a developers mindset is disingenuous.

    New infrastructure, amenities potential residents would value and a pleasing astetic all factor into what people want to do.

    To put it plainly, you can’t expect a spontanious revitalization. The city needs to sit down and look at this opportunity on the whole and decide how to properly incetivise development around the project for the next decade. Of course that type of thought process is just what local government is famous for not being able to produce, but one can hope.

    It isn’t everyday the city has a chance to jumpstart the process, I’m not saying blindly sign over a blank cheque to Kates… But anyone sitting back and saying it will be a blackhole after its developed is giving the city a pass once its built. They are the critical cog to taking Katz’s proffered opportunity and turning into a benefit for all, that isn’t Katz’s responsibility at all.

    • s_berezin94

      I don’t disagree with you. The question is, do the amenities come because of the people, or do the people come because of the amenities? I would argue that in most cases, its the former, as a business won’t be successful without customers. The question then becomes, without amenities, who will move there? You believe the arena district will create these amenities, I believe that it won’t, and that most of the amenties the arena could bring (bars and hotels) will not encourage most people to live there (restaurants could).

      The problem is that Edmonton is not at a point where there is a critical mass of downtown demand. In Calgary, getting to and from downtown is difficult and parking is expensive. In Edmonton, it’s easy to get downtown and cheap to park. The primary concern for 99% of people looking for a home is not “is there an arena district nearby (facetious to make a point, but its also not primarily “what bars or restaurants are nearby”), its “is it safe”, “how expensive is the rent/mortgage”, and “how long is the commute”. Until the answers to those questions make living in the inner city more viable than living in the suburbs, downtown development will be secondary. While an arena district may make it safer on ~100 nights a year, the other ~265 its empty, and without people around, criminals are much more comfortable. So, the best solution, if indeed the goal is to encourage downtown and inner city development, is to take the money that would have been put into the arena, as well as the money that’s been used to increase infrastructure capacity to support the suburbs, and use it to encourage businesses and people to move downtown. Let’s be honest – ATB and CWB do far more to bring people downtown than the arena, and yet what would we say if they asked for a new, taxpayer subsidizes headquarters?

      • Clyde Frog

        Sorry, what your saying is that we need to use the money to encourage businesses to come downtown… When that is exactly what the arena complex is? Katz has committed 100 million to development outside of the arena itself and build up the district.

        How is a office tower being compared to a mall/entertainment complex?

        As to the people before amenities argument, its you need both at the same time. Without City support and forethought in terms of development permits and planning permission designed to capitalize on the influx of capital downtown, you are right it will fail.

        I think we agree in principle, we just hold differing views of how the City can and should attract business.

        • When I said “businesses”, I was more specifically referring to offices, or other places where people actually work, not to restaurants and bars. The truth is, even if Katz built the office towers, there would be no tenants to fill the space. If you want to encourage downtown developments, you need tenants to move to downtown Edmonton. My point being that CWB’s head office downtown does a lot to bring people there, and, just like with residential development, if we want business to shift their operations downtown, it has to make financial sense.