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Iconic new arena would bolster our brand as great northern city

by Edmonton Journal / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton's proposed downtown arena is currently in the Design Development Phase.

We first heard Mayor Stephen Mandel’s mantra of “no more crap” at his 2005 state of the city address hosted by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce at the Shaw Conference Centre (a good example of unique Edmonton architecture). We agree with the mayor as much now as we did then.

The world’s great cities aren’t built around lifeless, boring boxes from the same cheap mould. Instead, they are built around distinctive, elaborate structures.

Edmonton has examples of this unique, iconic architecture: the new Art Gallery of Alberta, the Muttart Conservatory and Edmonton’s city hall.

We also have great examples of turn-of-the-century architecture that have been restored to their former glory, like the old (and now new again) Alberta Hotel and my favourite, the World Trade Centre Edmonton on Jasper Avenue across from the similarly magnificent Hotel Macdonald.

But we also have, as the mayor would say, some “crap” in this city.

A good example is the Legislature Annex, which was built in the 1960s as a fast-tracked, low-cost structure that now plagues the beautiful legislature grounds. We all know what buildings like this do to others’ impression of our hometown and the long-term cost to the city’s reputation and skyline.

As an organization focused on ensuring government doesn’t waste our money on frivolous things, we understand the lure of building structures quickly and easily to save a few dollars but with no thought that these buildings are a legacy for future generations. We all want present and future Edmontonians to be proud of this city, and as the leaders of today we owe it to leaders of tomorrow to ensure the monuments we build now stand the test of time.

Our city is on the cusp of greatness; let’s not scrimp on building an iconic arena that will help brand Edmonton as the great northern city that it is.

This brings me to the cost of the downtown arena. In many ways the current debate is moot.

The original $450-million estimate for the arena was compiled by Convention, Sports and Leisure International in 2007. Our cost of living has not stood still since then, nor have our wages or the price of building materials.

Since 2007, inflation, as measured by Statistics Canada’s consumer price index for Edmonton, has advanced by about 8.3 per cent. On that basis, the $485-million construction cost estimate our city council is wrestling with really is $450 million in 2007 dollars, the year the project was conceived.

With that in mind, the arena is well within the $450-million budget that was appropriately placed on it.

On the other hand, if we adjust the original cost estimate by the Edmonton non-residential construction price index, as the city usually does when budgeting for major projects such as LRT expansion, then the inflation factor is a whopping 14.7 per cent. So in today’s terms, and based on that rate of inflation, we should consider anything below $516 million to build a downtown arena as a good financial deal.

Edmonton’s arena and entertainment district is an ambitious project; it’s exactly what Edmonton needs to cement its reputation as a great northern city.

We are fortunate to have a mayor and councillors who have a vision and the will to lead our city toward achieving its potential. Let’s do it right and let’s do it right now. Further delays will only cost us more.

-- Ken Barry, chair, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

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