The Edmonton Arena District proposal has captured the interest and imagination of Edmontonians ever since it was unveiled last summer. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
Edmontonians are a passionate bunch, and among the topics that trigger the most heartfelt and honest reactions, community and hockey rank near the top of the list.
At a packed Council Chambers at City Hall Wednesday afternoon, community leaders gathered with dozens of interested and invested Edmontonians to discuss the details of the new downtown arena district. The project, spearheaded by the Katz Group, proposes to revitalize downtown Edmonton with a new sports and entertainment complex, office towers, urban housing, commercial zones, and compelling public spaces.
The vision is grand, but Daryl Katz -- proud Edmontonian and owner of the Edmonton Oilers -- took the opportunity to publicly declare his passion about the potential of this project.
"A new downtown arena district can represent Edmonton's potential, its capacity to be bold and to think big, and its future as a leading northern city," Katz said to the councillors, Mayor Stephen Mandel, and the crowd at City Council Chambers.
"I believe this project is important for Edmonton's long-term competitiveness. I also believe it is achievable, and I want you to know that I am prepared to do my part to make happen."
That role is providing passion, promotion, and substantial financial support. At the meeting, Katz pledged another $100 million to the project, bringing his total contribution to $200 million. In addition to the $200 million he spent purchasing the Oilers in 2008, Katz's commitment to Edmonton's sporting legacy will approach nearly half a billion dollars.
City officials, led by Mayor Mandel, asked tough questions on behalf of the taxpayers. Funding, the arena district business model, and contingency plans were scrutinized by the councillors, who were eager to ensure the proposed project is in Edmonton's best interest, from start to finish.
"I want to have a facility here that we can be proud of," Mandel said to the media.
The Katz Group took the time provided to confirm that notion. Although the road to a new arena is still being cleared, the Group clearly communicated the obstacles currently situated in the Oilers path, with the expiration of the Oilers lease at Rexall Place looming in 2014.
|The Edmonton Arena District open house piqued the curiosity of hundreds of Edmontonians in early May. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club) |
Rexall Place is a shrine to the Oilers dynasty and the host of many of the city's most proud and memorable moments. But as the second-oldest arena in the NHL, the 36-year-old facility trails the current established League standard for customer service, amenities, entertainment, technology, and capacity.
In addition, unlike the 29 other NHL franchises, the Oilers receive no revenue from other Rexall Place events. All non-hockey revenues are directed to Northlands.
The financial pinch hasn't gone unnoticed and it could soon leave a mark, the Katz Group said.
"If professional hockey in Edmonton is going to be sustainable, something has to change, regardless of who owns the team," Paul Marcaccio, Katz Group chief financial officer, explained. "Many factors, such as the size of our market, cannot be helped … Others can only be addressed by a new arena and having the same operating model as the Calgary Flames and all other NHL Teams."
The NHL comparisons are interesting, but in the end, all parties agree a solution to the arena debate must come from within the City of Champions.
"From the beginning, we have pursued a vision that we believe will benefit all Edmontonians, by creating jobs, by providing a jolt of investment into our urban centre, by shrinking our environmental footprint, and by developing a world-class sports and entertainment district in the core of our city," Katz said. "I can assure you that our hearts are in the right place."
In this city, hearts, home, and hockey go hand-in-hand.