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City of Edmonton updates arena project, unveils design consultation report

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - A new report released on the City of Edmonton's website Thursday morning has provided an update on the costing and design consultation of the proposed downtown arena.

Initially set with a $450 million budget with which to design and build a state-of-the-art sporting and entertainment complex, the report indicates that the design team -- led by 360 Architecture -- has completed 100 percent of the Schematic Design process with a $485 million figure.

"That's about eight percent over the budget that has been set aside," said Rick Daviss, Executive Director of the Downtown Arena Project. "We're not at the Guaranteed Maximum Price stage yet. We still have a lot of design work to go through. Generally when you're at Schematic Design, there's still a plus or minus 20 percent that you're dealing with in your cost estimation. It's still a pretty preliminary number. We do want to get that down to 450 and we've identified a path to get there."

In order to reach a Guaranteed Maximum Price (in which the Katz Group and the City of Edmonton agree) by the end of the year, it's recommended that the team should advance to the Design Development phase.

Several cost saving opportunities will be pursued to reach the agreed-upon $450 million budget. City Council will debate the report on Tuesday, July 17 and will provide direction on how to proceed with some of the proposed changes.

Some of those elements include changing the building's zinc outer skin to stainless steel or aluminum, removing certain Bistro Bars depicted in the latest design renderings, replacing tile with polished concrete on the rink's second-level concourse and the removal or downsizing of the building's outer LED marquee.

The Oilers Store -- a shop slated to be open on non-game nights inside the arena, unlike what's currently offered at Rexall Place -- may also be moved to a neighbouring shopping complex, deemed "more appropriate" by the hockey club under the circumstances. The Oilers are prepared to assume all costs of that move if it came to be.

"We're going to be pursuing these (options). They certainly haven't been implemented at this time and I wouldn't even say that they're necessarily supported by the design team," Daviss said. "These are things that can be done, but they would impact operations, revenue streams and the appearance of the building."

"We're hoping as we go through the design process that we will identify other cost saving opportunities -- and if these things do get taken out right away, there's a chance that they could be put back in."

Lyle Best chaired the original Arena Feasibility Study back in 2008, and admits there's some disappointment in the process. Given that it's become a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he sees little reason to scale anything back.

"There are people sitting behind desks at City Hall who mean well, but aren't architects," he said. "Take the Opera House in Sydney and imagine it having vinyl siding on it. We have one shot to do this right. Whoever designed it did great, because 75 or 80 percent of the citizens said it's fantastic. You start stripping away and stripping away, and suddenly you don't have what that guy designed. He'd probably want his name taken off it.

"You've got something you know is a winner, so let's keep cutting it back to see if we can really screw it up…"

While the arena itself has pushed the budget, other elements have not. The LRT link, which will serve the area with direct access to the rink and surrounding areas with a pedway, has come in under budget. It's possible at this stage that the cost savings realized there could be reinvested to support to the previously unfunded community rink planned on the district's northeast corner.

That, in addition to the Winter Garden -- which, as Daviss explains, could be unsubstantially "scaled back" -- means what the public has seen through renderings and blueprints is still the target.

None of the options presented require any significant re-design, which would result in delays and increased construction costs.

"What we took out to the public and what people have seen is in essence what we're proceeding with.

"We received close to an 80 percent support or approval rate (via Public Engagement during the Schematic Design process). People saw that it was truly going to be iconic and that it does have the opportunity revitalize the downtown area."

In its last chamber meeting of the summer next Tuesday, Edmonton City Council will discuss the report and merits of the proposed solutions, all in an effort to advance the program to the Design Development stage.

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