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Edmonton City Council has concerns for new downtown arena

Mar 3, 2011, 10:13 PM EDT

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Looking around the current NHL, there are a few markets that are fighting out their arena deals in local government. Charles Wang and the Islanders have been fighting for the Lighthouse Project for years on Long Island. The Coyotes’ (and any future owner’s) lease agreement with the City of Glendale has been the sticking point of the team’s sale since the day Jerry Moyes filed for bankruptcy. For fans out there who thought those situations were getting stale, the City of Edmonton would like to tell you there could be a new arena dispute for public consumption.

Here’s the quick and dirty: The Oilers are looking to build a new arena in downtown Edmonton to replace the aging Rexall Place. The arena is expected to cost $450 million with Oilers owner Daryl Katz paying for about 70% of the arena project. Yesterday, there was a City Council meeting with multiple councilors stating that the arena isn’t a done deal. Those are the bare bone details.

There have been rumors that an arena deal was set and it just had to go through the legal channels before it was official. But in a surprise, someone forgot to tell the council members that they were supposed to just rubber-stamp the arena agreement. David Staples from the Edmonton Journal broke down some of the concerns:

As Coun. Amarjeet Sohi put it at the Wednesday meeting: “There’s a perception out there in certain segments of the public that what we’re going through is formalities, that the decision has already been made. There are some people that we will never be able to satisfy, but I’m hearing that (same thing) from the general public, which concerns me because I haven’t made up my mind.”

Sohi then suggested other councillors haven’t made up their minds, either, and I think that’s generally true.

Coun. Kim Krushell and many others clearly have huge issues over financing that must be answered.

Coun. Ben Henderson and others are rightly worried about how this project will impact the rest of downtown.

Coun. Tony Caterna, Ed Gibbons and Diotte are very concerned about the future of Northlands in this deal.

Maybe there’s something lost in the translation between Canadian English and American English, but that certainly doesn’t sound like a “done deal.” On top of the aforementioned concerns, there’s some debate whether a downtown arena would provide the economic stimulus predicted by the Katz Group and a study presented to the Council. If there are public funds being put up, the government officials want to make sure the city is getting something out of this.

Just like the Lighthouse Project in Long Island, an arena in Edmonton would be part of a bigger revitalization project. Not only is it important in these discussions to insure the arena is built, but it’s equally important to the city that the rest of the project is done in a way to help transform the downtown arena. Anything less and this project will undoubtedly run into a few roadblocks.

It sounds like economists and scholars on both sides of the issue agree that an arena in the downtown area has the potential to make money. When there’s a project that is going to be 70% funded by private monies and is expected to stimulate the economy in a city that could use stimulating, there’s really no reason this shouldn’t get done. But just like we’ve learned in Glendale and Nassau County, things are never as simple as they seem.

Who knows, if things don’t go smoothly, maybe someone will start rumors of an exodus to Winnipeg! That’s how these things work, right?

  1. willmimi - Mar 7, 2011 at 10:43 PM

    Actually, Matt, Staples numbers in that column were misleading. Katz has pledged only $100 of the costs of the arena, with total costs estimated at $450 million. Pressed by his readers to explain how that contributions equals 70%, Staples was last seen dancing off to write another column praising the idea of using tax dollars to build an arena and then turn 100% of the revenues over to Katz. We expect him back any time soon.

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