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City council gives go-ahead to arena project's Design Development stage

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - By a 10-3 vote Tuesday evening, Edmonton City Council approved the motion to advance the city's Downtown Arena Project to the Design Development stage.

ICON Venue Group's Tim Romani, Scott Ralston of 360 Architecture and City Manager Simon Farbrother briefed council with presentation on progress made during the Schematic Design stage and what lies ahead, followed by a lengthy question-and-answer period.

While the arena is currently $35M over the $450M budget, cost-saving options were also presented to council in an effort to proceed to the next phase where more detailed conclusions on design and costing can be reached.

"At this point in time we give the Administration direction to bring the building in at $450M and see where they're at when they come back," said Mayor Stephen Mandel as he addressed the media in between sessions at City Hall. "I'm not a designer or architect, but it seems like there's lots of room to bring it down to that area.

"We heard time and time again from citizens (through public engagement sessions) that they don't want us to build crap. They want us to build a good building and at some point in time, council will have to make a decision. If it's going to be over, how much is it going to be over by? It's important that council makes a decision for 30 years and not 35 minutes."

Also in regards to costing, there's still $100M missing and being pursued by the city to the provincial government, Mayor Mandel and the Administration said talks are ongoing to secure the shortfall.

When it comes to reducing cost, several options are already being explored. The rink's exterior skin -- originally to be constructed with zinc, similar to the Art Gallery of Alberta mere blocks away -- could be changed to stainless steel or even aluminum. Other exterior elements, such as lighting and public space, could also be downsized while interior components and even locker room space could be limited as well.

"We can get the building down to $450M and maybe even less than that," Mandel said. "At that point in time there will be some give-and-take. Council will have to make a decision if that's where they want to be."

While some would argue the cost overruns are relatively small in the grand scheme (under 10% of the total cost), the Katz Group and the City of Edmonton will have to determine whether it's worth stripping details in order to meet the budget or spend some extra pennies to save long-term regret on this once-in-a-lifetime, instantly iconic opportunity.

"We're not there yet -- to make a decision if we want something in or out," Mandel explained. "They've shown $17M in potential savings, plus opportunities with some other things that might or might not be reasonable. They also gave us a list of a whole bunch of other things that might or might not be saved."

Councilors Tony Caterina, Linda Sloan and Kerry Diotte were those opposed. They were most critical with 360, ICON and the Administration by repeatedly questioning the funding model -- an issue they have had with the project from the beginning.

Others, such as Don Iveson in particular, are also not particularly pleased of the funding model but want the arena to go ahead and come in under the budget everyone has agreed to.

Mayor Mandel was the last to speak on the issue. Ending the session on a high and passionate note, indicating he wasn't pleased with the quibbling over dollars and cents in another's pocket, he cited the billions spent on other ventures while downtown has been forgotten about.

His argument is simple: it's about Edmonton.

"This is about downtown Edmonton and its development," he said. "Put behind you the idea that (Oilers owner) Mr. (Daryl) Katz is going to make or not make money. He's rich today, he'll be rich tomorrow and he'll be rich the day after. This is not about his wealth -- he's got it. This is about Edmonton. And maybe we can once in a while put behind us the concerns we have about pennies and nickels, build this great city and do things that are best for the city.

"[The public] wants to see this arena happen. They care about downtown. The time is now to move ahead with this."

What's next? City council will now break for the summer, but will be provided with another arena update in November. From there, it's about continuing to progress through Design Development en route to the Master Agreement, ultimately reaching 60 percent design completion and a Guaranteed Maximum Price in early 2013.

Then it's time to put shovels in the ground, if all goes well.

Until then, it's business as usual as ICON and 360 Architecture continue to work on designing one of, if not the most iconic sports and entertainment venues in the world.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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