I just came across a blog post that I had started to write exactly 2 years ago, but I never completed it, nor posted it. In November of 2012 City Council had just killed the idea of a new Edmonton Arena, ending negotiations (remember that?) with Edmonton Oiler owner Daryl Katz. Here is what I was thinking about the situation at the time:
I was happy to hear that Edmonton City Council finally quit plans on a new downtown arena but I fear we may not have heard the last of it. Don’t get me wrong, I very much relish a strong and vibrant downtown core but the Katz proposal and more particularly the process – stank!
I have questions. the first and foremost is simply “Why replace”? What is wrong with the existing facility? This throwaway mentality seems to be general problem. This thinking of a building’s lifetime in terms of decades, when it should be in terms of centuries is a terrible waste!
I could understand a new facility new facility if it were significantly bigger (in terms of seating capacity). 50 to 100% larger would put the facility in a different class from the Northlands building, but this proposal calls for just a marginal increase in capacity. It is still very much in the same class and therefore unnecessary. We don’t need two facilities in this same size class – until we have two NHL franchises or are regularly turning away touring world class arena concerts. We certainly are not there yet – maybe in 100 years?
Development around arena has been sold as a benefit of a downtown arena. If this is a natural consequence of a big arena, why did it not happen around Northlands? Are there not already enough major buildings, activities, magnets in the downtown area?
I’ve also felt that there was something fishy about the whole arena process and that the City got sucked in. Am I mistaken in recalling that when Katz first bought the Oilers, he said he was going to build a new arena with his own money plus he would put $100 million into nearby development? It sounded as if all the City had to do was support the necessary zoning for the project. By the end it was to the point where the City builds the arena out of tax dollars, Katz gets the revenues from it and pays a small portion of those revenues back to the City over many years (i.e. nothing out of his pocket!) This is such a radical change. This is a “bait and switch” of enormous proportion – if this happened to me on a personal transaction I would have walked away much earlier This kind of bargaining tactic does not even deserve negotiation.
So that is what I was thinking in November 2012, what do I think now, two years later in November 2014, with the arena construction well under way?
I still do not like the process by which the City got pulled in and committed to this project, but I’ve got to say that I am very impressed by the progress in the arena construction and the plans for development around the Arena District. The City needs more distinct districts in the downtown core and it looks like this one, for business and entertainment, is indeed happening and will be good for the City of Edmonton as a whole.