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TENCER: Dream has become inevitable

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers

There's a lot of great advice from brilliant minds when you read about subjects like innovation and success. One of my favourites is from American avant-garde genius John Cage, who famously told author Richard Kostelanetz: "I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones."

Without fresh ideas, without innovation, without a will to evolve and improve, we're sentenced to life as it presently exists. Now, life as it presently exists might be perfectly fine, but generation after generation benefits from those among them who are willing to think bigger and dream larger and believe in something more.

Our view here, however, need not be so broad. So let's bring it back closer to home with another of my favourite quotes on the subject. Wayne Gretzky, he of the countless records and timeless talent, put it simply: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

Nearly 25 years post-Gretzky, the city he helped put on the map has heeded his advice, and I'm admittedly and openly pretty damn proud as I sit here and type this.

7 years after the subject was first seriously broached, we're moving ahead on this as a city, having all earned our PhD in Downtown Arena Studies. We had to pass a lot of courses to get here:

Downtown Arena Feasability 101.

Introduction to Community Revitilization Levy.

Negotiating in Good Faith 211.

And so on. And on. And on. For 7 years.

I spent those years wondering, if not this, then what? I always saw the creation of a vibrant downtown as a worthy goal, and have long thought that our city could benefit from a bit of an accelerated heartrate.

Revitalizing our downtown needed to start with a catalyst that would generate an increased volume of people, ideally pedestrian traffic. Like it or not, our city is event crazy, and, yes, particularly Edmonton Oilers event crazy. There's no shame in that and there's no sense in denying it. Our hockey team is part of our fabric and it was always a fundamentally sound idea to locate it in the very heart of our city, especially given that our heart needed a bit of a transplant.

I love Edmonton and I wasn't going to stop no matter which way this went. To me, though, this was a decision about what kind of a city we wanted to be for my generation. Did we want to be the city that was happy to sit pressure-free on the bench in the dying seconds of a game or did we want to be the city that was going to have the game on its stick?

It took us a while to get there, but we finally took the shot. Good thing, too, because there wasn't much time left on the clock.

I understand the position of those who are against this deal, but I respectfully disagree. Those who villify Daryl Katz for his angling to benefit from this miss the obvious point that his benefit is ours, too. I do not believe it reasonable to assume that this project would have been completed in the absence of private sector contribution and, regardless, I presume that those against this deal would also be against an entirely publicly funded concept. Even those in favour of such a concept would likely admit that, absent any contributions from other levels of government, a project of this magnitude would involve too great a risk for the city to take on its own.

So, if private sector contribution was necessary, that leads me to my next belief that Daryl Katz wasn't the first in a long line of rich lifelong citizens of the city who wanted to be a part of this. He was the only one in line and, contrary to popular belief, he wasn't asking for anything unprecedented. The vast majority of NHL rinks were built with a public/private partnership and you can ask Molson, Rob Bryden and Arthur Griffiths about building an NHL rink in Canada without that partnership.

So, in order to create a financial model that would guarantee the sustainability of the hockey club that he owns and we love, Daryl Katz asked for a partnership. Within a model that achieved revitlization for the downtown core and a significantly increased tax base into perpetuity, the Oilers and Katz Group would profit and, thus, be sustainable for the duration of the 35 year location agreement attached to the deal.

Negotiations were far from smooth, at times, and you have to credit Council for the courage to stand tough against a billionaire who is all too familiar with demanding negotiations. But, at the heart of the matter, what Katz wanted, and what Council demanded, was a true partnership, where a win for one was a win for all. The 10-3 vote to finally proceed was from the same council who previously ceased negotiating when a bad deal was being peddled. The same council who, remember, fought throughout the process to make this a reality that did not involve a tax increase for you.

So, yes, Daryl Katz is highly likely to profit from this. And we should be cheering for him, for if he makes money off of the development around a downtown arena, that means there's development around a downtown arena.

For Edmonton, success is about quality of life, retention of citizens and businesses and municipal profit via the Community Revitlizaton Levy program that will allow for significant future investment into other infrastructure and programs. All of that is tied to the success of the downtown arena and significant development around it.

The Oilers. Concerts. A community rink. Condos. Pedestrian friendly space. Restaurants. Hotels. Office towers. Public transit. Night life.

Years from now, we'll have long since forgotten this fight and that's a day worth looking forward to. This vision was worthy of the struggle, but it's a struggle I'm anxious to forget. Years from now, when downtown Edmonton has a swagger, all we'll remember is the moment that shot left our stick.

To close, I want to toss in some words of thanks.

First, to all of you, especially those that have called and e-mailed and texted and tweeted over the last years. Your choice to share your words of support or concern with me on this issue is humbling. The sheer volume of reaction to my requests for opinion on this issue have been staggering. I hope you all felt heard, because you always were. I'm paid to form an informed opinion and to offer it to you for consideration and debate. Defense of my opinion is not akin to strict belief that I'm always right, nor is it ever an indication that I value my own thoughts more than yours.

To principle characters involved on both sides, thank you for tolerating the constant badgering. Bob Black, Patrick LaForge, Steve Hogle, Kim Krushell, Dave Loken, Bryan Anderson, Kerry Diotte...the list goes on and on and on...were always there to give perspective or clarification. I'm thankful to these names, not for providing me with information, but for sharing with me so that I may share with you.

To my media colleagues, particularly those regularly on the sports beat, thank you for giving a complex city project a great deal of time and attention. Some of us were, no doubt, pulled outside our comfort zone on this one at times. I believe the sports audience in the city was, in the end, largely responsible for keeping this out of the hands of the naysayers. Nobody did better work than David Staples. Nobody can spin a yarn like Terry Jones. Nobody has access like Bob Stauffer. Jason Gregor was all over it from the beginning, too. In the end, competition aside, I'm thrilled that such a high quantity of quality coverage was available to our collective audiences.

Daryl Katz and Stephen Mandel, the men with the vision, who both persevered through endless scrutiny, considerable vitriol and as many dark days as light. If Mayor Mandel chooses not to run again in October, our city is worse off.

Finally, thank you to Simon Farbrother and Lorna Rosen. Of all the people I've listed, you two are the only ones that I don't know. But, sitting through countless Council meetings and reading countless pages of prepared documents, I learned more from you than from anyone else, including the beauty of patience, as you diplomatically answered every last question, no matter how silly they may have seemed. It was that professionalism that helped enable City Council to finally seize this new idea, which will not only benefit us now but also generations to come.

I know that comes across as a bit of an acceptance or victory speech, but, at the risk of sounding too cliche, it's hard not to treat this like a big win.

In August of 1996, actor Christopher Reeve gave a speech at the United States Democratic National Convention, about a year after a spinal injury paralyzed him. His words were speaking specifically to the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I thought them to be fairly apropo here:

"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."

Finally, this dream has become inevitable.

Dan Tencer is the host of Inside Sports with Dan Tencer weeknights from 6-9 p.m. and Oilers games on 630 CHED.
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