Earlier this week the never-ending arena negotiations hit a speed bump when the Katz group supposedly asked for numerous concessions. As Edmonton fans prepare for another idiotic, greedy lockout, the timing of the Katz Group’s new proposal couldn’t have been worse. Even the staunchest supporter of the downtown arena rolled their eyes when news of these demands became public.
Most Edmontonians, for or against the arena, want to see this come to a conclusion one way or the other. Considering it is inevitable that Edmonton will build a new facility some time in the next ten years, why not just negotiate a fair deal and move on. Of course that is logical, and the negotiations for the arena as well as a new CBA seem to lack any logical component.
I spoke with up with Mayor Stephen Mandel after the recent hearing of the new concessions and the frustration was evident in his voice.
Jason Gregor : Mayor, you used the words “frustrating” when talking about the recent offer from the Katz group. In an ongoing negotiation there are always peaks and valleys and I’m guessing that today is a little bit of a valley. Are you still confident that this can get done or was there something in that proposal today that has made you worried for the first time that this may not happen?
Mayor Stephen Mandel: Well you know that we’ve been negotiating to do this for several years and at some point in time we all need to sit down and find ways to get something done that is going to be acceptable. I thought that we’d done that in New York and that the city council, with a degree I think of unfair criticism made some major decisions from New York and passed a resolution. And for me, that was the deal I thought we had. But we’ve never stopped negotiating since.
JG: I know that you guys turned it down and said that you’re going to continue on with the funding model from October, 2011 so what’s the next step?
MM: I think that we as city council and the mayor have been negotiating this and the city manager and his staff has worked very hard, and so has the Katz group. I don’t think that anyone has not worked hard at this, but they’ll get back together and see if there is some common ground. And I hope there is. I have had time to look at all of the various information that has come out today, but some have indicated that we get back to the table and see what we can work out. Edmonton, this city council, this city, is passionate about their hockey. They’re passionate about their Oilers and they want to see them be in a new facility and council is willing to move forward. But we have a format and to change that we need to have some rational as to what we should do and the Katz group needs to come to the council to say why.
JG: Do you think that it would help if Daryl Katz spoke to the Edmonton public?
MM: That’s not for me to say. Daryl Katz is a very private person and so I respect that he has decided to do that, so I’m not going to comment on what Daryl Katz should or should not do, that’s up to him.
JG: Were you then caught off guard by this, does this surprise you to kind of come out of left field?
MM: No, it’s been ongoing and that’s why the administration had to bring it to the city council because the discussions hadn’t really been going very far.
JG: Can you clarify, because I think a lot of people believed that you and the Katz Group had agreed upon the funding model for the 350 million and that you were going to wait to see if the province would kick in for the other 100 million. Is that something that was never factual?
MM: Well, we thought coming out of New York that we had put together a package that was a stretch for the city and probably the Katz group, but we agreed to that and it was supposed to be the foundation of moving forward. But we have not moved forward from there and so at some point negotiations have to move forward, and they’ve been stagnant for quite a while.
JG: Could an arbitrator help this process move forward at all?
MM: No, we’d be more than willing to listen to any kind of suggestions that would help move this forward. People know that I’ve been a strong supporter of an arena downtown but there is only so far the city can go and we would do anything to meet with people to rectify or to correct or to do whatever you want to call it to get this thing finalized. But time is of the essence because our economy has not heated up enough yet but price starts to escalate and the arena which we think is going to be in very proximity to the budgeted number becomes a whole lot more money and then it becomes even more difficult.
JG: If you had to choose, what is the biggest stumbling block in your mind?
MM: There are a lot of them so I wouldn’t say there’s just one.
JG: Well that doesn’t sound positive. Do you almost have to start from scratch?
MM: No, I think we all have to make a decision to try to reach an agreement and to understand the justification for the other people’s positions. One of the big challenges with this is the 35 year negation. The Katz group is saying wait a minute, 35 years and they’re probably trying to think of every possible variable that can happen and that’s pretty difficult. And the city is thinking 35 years, what do we have to think of, and that’s some of the challenges that come up in the whole program but I don’t have an answer for you. I think that we need to get back to the table and find a common ground to see if there is the capacity to complete the deal.
JG: So based on what you’ve learned in the past few years Mayor, is there any element of the process that you think would work better if you do get back to the negotiating table?
MM: I don’t know. I think that it’s… I’m trying to think of the right answer to that. I think that if I knew then we’d try to do it. It’s really, I think that first of all it’s acknowledging what the New York Deal did or didn’t do. We thought the New York deal was a very good deal and it was something that was something that was very beneficial to Mr. Katz and very beneficial to the city as we would get a new arena. If the New York deal isn’t beneficial for some reason, whatever that happens be and that’s what the indication is, then let’s put those items on the table. You have to come to city council and deal with those. It’s not fair to our administration because they can bring one or two at a time and say here’s a, here’s b, here’s c, here’s d whatever they may happen to be and try to pick them off. But I think that what are the deal breakers and what aren’t’ they, what will differentiate itself from the New York agreement?
JG: Is there any way the city can say we’re going to build the arena ourselves. Is that a remote possibility?
MM: You know, at some point in time I think that we have to have respect that we can come to an agreement with the Katz group and go from there. Council might at some point say, ‘Gee things have broken down, let’s build the arena ourselves’ but I personally believe, and I’ve said this before, we need a new arena. The old one is worn out and almost worn down and we need to bring new life to the city and help downtown out a lot. So I think that we need a new arena. How that’s built and in what way and to what benefit, council will look at every alternative to do that. We spent a lot of money up until now and hopefully that money won’t go to waste because whoever will find a way to do something.
JG: Do you think that people have lost sight that this is more than just a facility that will house our NHL team. There has been so much focus on a billionaire owner and he’s going to benefit and some people don’t want that, but that this decision is about more than just an arena?
MM: I’ve got to be very frank with you, that’s not a consideration that I have. Mr. Katz is Mr. Katz and he owns the hockey team and I’ve said this in the past that that’s not an issue. He’s made his money and I congratulate him and he’s done very well, but there’s not many hockey owners that need to go to the homeless shelter at night and these guys are all very wealthy people. People buy hockey teams and invest in hockey teams for various reasons, and we respect what Mr. Katz’s rights are. So I don’t think that that’s an issue at all, for me it isn’t.
JG: I didn’t mean you specifically I was thinking more about our citizens, and that this decision encompasses more than just an arena. It is about opening up doors to other opportunities within our city.
MM: Many Edmontonians think that this city is good enough to have nothing here. And that’s why we hadn’t had a recreation centre built here since 1980, and we haven’t had roads fixed and the neighbourhoods fixed, or libraries built, or overpasses built because everyone said that it was good enough and that we didn’t have to do anything here. And that’s why half of our young people left because there wasn’t opportunity here. So we have to be progressive, we have to be creative, we have to do things. And a downtown arena is a catalyst project, it’s vitally important. We have to come up with an agreement with Mr. Katz, but we thought that we had an agreement based upon New York.
JG: So are there any scheduled dates to get back to the negotiating table?
MM: I think that’s best to be left to the negotiators. And I think that they’ll get back together. I read on one of those blog a statement from the Katz group and I don’t to attribute them because I’m not sure, but I think that it was them that talked about there are issues and we have to get back together to see if we can solve this.
JG: Yeah, they sent out a release stating that they still feel that they can work together, and that they want to.
MM: And I appreciate that. What needed to happen was that the challenge that we were facing had to come to council by administration. Everyone was going around the block, around the track and not getting any results. And council needed to give direction. They gave direction in a very adamant way. They were quite clear. But you know, nothing is too good for Edmonton and we should make sure that we do everything we can, the best as possible. And hopefully at the end of the day we will be able to solve this mystery of how we build this arena and how we maintain NHL hockey here, and rekindle parts of our downtown and move on to something new and different.
I don’t believe the city will build the facility on their own and I don’t see the Katz Group doing it either. Both sides need one another. So get back to the table and hammer it out.
There needs to be some urgency from both sides to get a deal done. The longer they negotiate the more costs will rise.
The Katz Group continues to be a PR disaster during this process, and they took another blow this week, based on the feedback I received from Edmontonians during my show the past few days. Fans are irate and they see these concessions as a step backwards.
Let’s hope they don’t derail the entire project.