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Rink dreams; Oilers boss applies to have land for new arena rezoned @NHLdotcom

EDMONTON - Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz made his bid for a new arena official Monday with a zoning application for a large swath of land on the edge of downtown.

In addition to an arena that the NHL team would call home, the application calls for a casino and a mix of hotels, apartments, retailers, broadcasting and movie studios, exhibition and convention facilities and nightclubs.

The land being considered is a 6.5-hectare plot near the present Baccarat Casino just north of the downtown core. None of the buildings would be taller that 60 storeys, the application says.

The city's general manager of planning and development, Gary Klassen, said the application is the first formal step and doesn't commit the city to anything.

"Its intent is to allow for a development of this nature to be considered," Klassen said.

The application does not include any architectural drawings, which will come at a later time when the development permit stage is underway.

It also stays away from the contentious issues of cost and funding.

In February, the Katz Group revealed it wants the city to pay for and own the $400-million arena. Katz, it was suggested, would invest in the surrounding entertainment district, the property taxes from which could be used to pay off the arena.

Debate has been alternately simmering and boiling for more than two years in the Alberta capital over what's to be done with Rexall Place, the time-worn circular building that has been the Oilers' home since the team's World Hockey Association Days in the early 1970s.

Almost all agree the arena - located in an industrial area in the city's northeast - does not meet the standards of current NHL rinks. It has narrow concourses, long lineups for washrooms, little to no room for modern satellite and TV trucks and a dispiriting smooth-grey cement on rough-grey cement interior decor.

The team's lease on Rexall Place is up in 2014.

The debate over a new home is a hot topic because the Oilers, who won five Stanley Cups in the 1980s and early 1990s with big names such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, have become part of the city's identity and cultural DNA.

Even though the team hasn't won a championship for two decades and finished dead last in the NHL this season, Oilermania dominates sports pages and sports talk-radio.

The city now needs to determine whether the arena project is in line with its own downtown development vision.

"We certainly understand the (objectives) in the new downtown plan, to ensure that there is street-level activation and that the downtown be laudable and sustainable," said Bob Black, who speaks for the sports and entertainment arm of the Katz Group.

Black believes shovels could be in the ground by early 2012 and the rink built in time for the start of the 2014 season.

Civic officials will spend the next few days taking a closer look at the application. In the near future, a date will be set for a public meeting. Following the public meeting, city council will vote on the application.

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