Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz calls development around his team’s under-construction new home ‘a great reflection of Edmonton’s spirit and potential’
By John MacKinnon, Edmonton Journal
August 28, 2014
Time flies when you’re delivering on a pledge to create “Canada’s largest mixed-use sports and entertainment development,” doesn’t it?
Can it really be seven-and-a-half years since Edmonton pharmacy billionaire Daryl Katz submitted a surprise $145 million bid to purchase the Oilers from the Edmonton Investors Group, ruffling the feathers of many in that civic-minded group of 38 who had saved the NHL club from possible relocation?
What is it, just a little more than six years since the sale closed, for $200 million, for the Oilers, the WHL’s Oil Kings and other assets?
Has it already been two years since Edmonton City Council, following four years of fractious negotiations, approved the design of what will be called Rogers Place and be the home of the OIlers, beginning in the Fall of 2016?
Well, buckle up, Edmonton, the Katz Group and WAM Development Group provided the first panoramic glimpse of the Edmonton Arena District on Thursday, the broad brush strokes of a mammoth downtown renovation.
To those who chafed at the city agreeing to what they believed to be a sweetheart arena deal for a billionaire, the overview Katz and WAM president and CEO Darren Durstling, provided Thursday will be sandpaper rubbing still-raw wounds.
Thus do the rich get richer, some will grumble. To those who believe that a dense development, highlighted by a stateof-the art arena/public gathering place enveloped by high-rise office and hotel space and and a mixed bag of street-level retail, will help transform the city centre, the first peek at the EAD will be all about possibility.
“We set out a vision seven years ago for how an iconic new downtown arena could be the catalyst for positive change for downtown and the entire capital region,” Katz said in a news release. “It’s exciting to see that vision come to life. We are very proud that Phase 1 of this project will be the largest mixed-use sports and entertainment project in Canada and, we believe, a great reflection of Edmonton’s spirit and potential.”
The future options run the gamut from spectators having a comprehensively good night of entertainment in a walkable district to the area being showcased on national and international TV, to the arena and surrounding facilities being leveraged in bids to host major sports and entertainment events for years to come.
You can bet the Oilers will bid for properties such as the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Entry Draft, for starters.
Will Katz be creative and push for things like the FIBA men’s and/or women’s World Basketball Championships and other non-hockey events? Rogers Place already is a centrepiece of Edmonton’s bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The idea for Oilers games and for concerts is for people to arrive early for a bite or a drink, take in the game and perhaps hang around afterward. This will be a new experience in Edmonton, where Rexall Place is and has been an in-for-the-game-out-for-post-game fun sort of destination.
If that pattern becomes established, will the district drain business from Whyte Ave., for example? Or other parts of downtown, like Jasper Avenue?
The EAD footprint will cover more than 25 acres of downtown Edmonton, from 101 Street to 104 Street and from 103 AVe. to 106 Ave. Phase 1 of the project alone will include 1.3 million square feet of office space, more than 1,000 residential units and more than 215,000 or retail space.
The presentation, made to a small group of journalists Thursday, provided an historical overview of how the downtown declined, over the years, and addressed a checklist of concerns a skeptical citizenry voiced through those wasting years of often gridlocked city council negotiations and testy public consultations. Rogers Place, Katz Group claims, will be the first major sports facility in Canada and just the second in North America built to conform to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. The EAD will “celebrate the ability to get around without a car,” a novel concept in a city with a deeply embedded car culture.
Rogers Place will be accessible on foot from five LRT stations.During negotiations, some expressed concern the arena would be a barrier between neighborhoods, that the district would lack ‘permeability.’ The Katz Group, as it has all along, lauds the Winter Garden pedway as creating a more accessible downtown, connecting the arena with the MacEwan LRT station, for example.
Thursday’s presentation was light on specific components of the district, although the list includes an upscale hotel, a Rexall Pharmacy, of course, a fitness centre, banking and, significant this, in light of the closure of two food outlets, a grocery store.Not to mention the 62-storey Stantec office tower.
Will all this entice more free agents to sign with the OIlers? Encourage the players on the current roster to want to stay in Edmonton? Will this district, when it’s fully achieved, upgrade the city’s image elsewhere? Edmontonians will have to wait a few more years to see about all of that.