Why Downtown?

22 Jul

It has to be…wait…what? The HOK report, the report only seen by members of the Arena Feasibility Committee, the report never seen by city councillors or the public, suggested that the current Northlands site would be a better location than the proposed 104th avenue site? That can’t be true! City Shaping, the final document from the Committee, states that it has to be downtown. Why? BECAUSE IT HAS TO BE. There’s no way the HOK paper was suppressed in part because the Katz Group Oilers wanted to cut Northlands out of the process, and didn’t want council or the public knowing that it was listed as a more feasible option by the people they and the city hired to look at these things. That’s so cynical. There’s just no way that happened. That would mean the Katz Group Oilers would have an ulterior motive, like owning the land themselves and getting their hands on all the non-hockey related revenue, and that’s just crazy talk. Let’s stick to the simple answer provided in the feasibility report. Why downtown? Because we said so.

p.s. Kudos to Scott McKeen for getting his hands on that document. I don’t know how he did it, considering councillors weren’t allowed to see it, and even a FOIP request couldn’t set it free, but he did it. Well done, sir.

***Update*** See reason for strikethroughs in the comments.


26 Responses to “Why Downtown?”

  1. FACLC July 27, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    A gravel parking does cost the city money. A highrise building brings in much more property tax revenue than a gravel lot.

    In that case Leendert, I want you to bulldoze your house to the ground and then build a new one that is bigger and worth roughly four times as much. Then your property taxes will increase accordingly, and you can stop costing the city money you deadbeat.

  2. Jordan July 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    Andy, I want to thank you for sponsoring some of the debate here. I’m not convinced that building an arena downtown is going to be the best solution for Edmontonians in the long term, but I think that there is definitely room for discussions about its as a possible future, and how it could impact Edmonton, its taxpayers, the Oilers, Northlands, and other important stakeholders (other orders of government, local businesses, etc…).

    It is very unfortunate that the discussion had to be brought forward with these significant ommissions, but it is worth considering that Northlands may have been pushing for a new arena or an upgraded arena on their lands to further bolster their business. I can’t say I know a lot about the group there other than it is an agricultural society, and that they receive a fair ammount of support from the City of Edmonton as it is. MY understanding is that the support is in the form of property tax writeoffs and some operating capital. My understanding is also that the City of Edmonton gets almost nothing back from Northlands (financially – there are of course the benefits of the events they host for the residents of Edmonton). Because at the surface they seem to derive a profit using subsidies from the city, I have difficulty seeing keeping things where they are as any different from moving them downtown.

    Since Edmonton is already hading out subsidies for sports/events in Edmonton to Northlands, who has done little with that money to add value to the city itself, why not explore what that same money could do in the Katzgroup proposal? If it can be used as a catalist for an influx of development dollars and upgrade the downtown core, is that not worth exploring?

    I’m not saying that we need to kowtow to the almighty Katz and build him a golden palace in the centre of our city because he owns the Oilers. But I think it’s worth exploring what the benefits could be of said golden palace. I’m not sold on downtown, but I’m not exactly thrilled about the prospect of keeping the Arena where it is either.

  3. David S July 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    I just wanted to add that it’s really good to see you writing again. Missed your work at BoA. I may not agree with your position, but kudos to you for building this discussion platform.

  4. Dach July 22, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    You’ve conveniently ignored the fact that the arena report was done BEFORE Katz bought the team. So much for your conspiracy theory…

    • Andy Grabia July 22, 2010 at 8:04 am #

      Yes and no. Katz received 100% of the shares from the EIG on February 5, 2008. The arena report was released March 26, 2008. Certainly he hadn’t been approved by the league yet, but LaForge himself today noted that Katz was involved in the discussions around the report. I probably should have just said “the Oilers,” though. At this point I just think of them as the same thing. Sloppy on my part. Thanks for the catch.

  5. YKOil July 22, 2010 at 6:02 am #

    Of course Northlans is a better site than most anything downtown – IT ALREADY HAS MOST OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE.

    LRT station – check

    Existing structure built – check

    Parking, Admin and Maintenance built – check

    Excellent Road Access North/South – Capilano is good and Yellowhead is adequate so check

    Excellent Road Access East/West – not so much

    There is, really, only one issue with the existing Northlans site from what I know/can see – 118th Avenue HAS to be upgraded. Increasing lane access from 66 Street to 82 Street along 118th would probably do the trick (giving drivers far greater choice on access points).

    Maybe I am crazy but I am thinking that costs to upgrade the stretch of road I reference are far less than costs to upgrade downtown traffic infrastructure… you know… to handle all that wonderful density and all…


  6. David S July 22, 2010 at 5:57 am #

    First of all, this isn’t just about an arena, the project is a “district” with an arena as the central component. The project would include condo development, so there’s part of your density argument. Then there’s the Quarters plan just down the street, which is condos as well. BTW – did you know Greg Christenson is involved with the arena team (he was at the AGA presentation)? The only reason he gets involved in anything is because he wants to build…wait for it…condos. He’s already building behind Macewan and he’s licking his chops at the possibilities if the district goes ahead.

    Next, $100 million from Katz, the ticket tax and the CRL levy should make up the difference between what it would cost to upgrade RX1 and the arena proposal. You don’t seriously believe Northlands is going to pay for those renos do you? The city paid for the Coliseum (RX1) and the city is going to pay for the renos. So it comes down to where to spend the money and where it’ll do the most good. That happens to be downtown.

    Lastly, RX1 is a dump. There’s nothing around it and a reno isn’t going to do anything other than make a crappy building a little less crappy. IF we build downtown, there’s a whole lot more that’ll come along with it.

    I appreciate there’s people in town who are afraid of change, who wish everything would stay the same so we’d have this nice, bigger version of Spruce Grove.

    There’s also alot of us out there that want to see progress and this project will kick off the sort of development our downtown sorely needs. And let me reiterate, ITS NOT JUST AN ARENA.

    PS. Andy, did you go down to the AGA presentation and talk to Bob Black, Greg Christenson, Alan Watt or Patrick Laforge? I did. I assume you did too since this is such a passionate issue for you. Looking forward to your thoughts about the event.

  7. Andy Grabia July 22, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    With the MCI Centre and the new baseball stadium, which rejuvenated a rundown section of DC, the Capitals and the Wizards and the baseball team are now rip-roaring successes, and a whole rundown part of DC has been rejuvenated.

    Have you been to Nationals Park? There is nothing but chain-linked fences and unfinished condo projects around it. And there’s lots of things you can anchor a community around. We don’t have NHL arenas on every corner. It’s a terrible anchor tenant, as the current Rexall shows.

    • A July 22, 2010 at 5:56 am #

      Yes. We need a real anchor tenant downtown. Like Wal-mart.

  8. MoJo July 22, 2010 at 4:01 am #

    You can’t blame TKG for trying to pay as little for the arena as possible. It’s good business sense.

    I think also that if there is public money involved, then the council will have real buy-in to the project and will be less likely to draw-out the approval process.

    Location at the end of the day isn’t as important as this blog makes out. Downtown is no more a viable option than the current Rexall location. As long as a site is well served by infrastructure (parking, public transport, etc) and relatively population-central it will work.

  9. S_Dub July 22, 2010 at 2:41 am #

    Make sure to post that cartoon about all the “benefits” experienced because of taxpayer-funded arenas in the States – I’ve never seen anything that gets the message across better.

  10. speeds July 22, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    I still think climate is ignored too much in terms of revitalization.

    OK, so you’ve got a nice new arena downtown, but how much foot traffic is that really going to generate when it’s 9:30 at night, -10 or -20 in January?

    I guess maybe more people will stay downtown after work and go to dinner before the game, is that part of the idea?

  11. Kristin July 22, 2010 at 2:28 am #

    I have some questions!

    Do you live downtown?

    What proposal to replace the gravel parking lots filled with crackheads do you support? Leaving parts of the downtown core like this is hardly acceptable.

    Do you think that a stadium that only holds 17000 people is big enough to serve the needs of a city and province that will likely double or quadruple in population over the next 50 years?

    • Andy Grabia July 22, 2010 at 2:47 am #

      Hi Kristin,

      I do not live downtown. I live near Bonnie Doon. As for the gravel lots and crackheads, a couple points. First, building an arena in that area–building anything in that area for that matter–doesn’t solve the problem of drug addiction. It just pushes it to the side, and moves those people to another area. If we really wanted to solve the problem of drug addiction and the problems come with it, I’d argue that using some of the money the Katz Group wants for an arena would be a good place to start. Secondly, I understand the desire to do more to develop our downtown. It’s something that I, as a lifelong Edmontonian, would love to see happen. But the question isn’t about whether or not we want to “revitalize” downtown. We all want that. The question is, “what is the best way to do that?” I’d argue that-and I’ll make this point clearer in future posts-placing an arena in that area is bad urban planning with a very serious cost. The arena will not solve the problem of downtown, which is density. The arena will only be full half the year at most, and even then for only four or five hours at a time. People will come, people will spend some money that they would have spent elsewhere in the city, and then they will go home. When the morning rolls around, no one will be there. My personal belief is that we need much more mixed housing in the downtown core, especially at the east end of it, and that encouraging the development of a community there is the best way to go.

      As for the stadium size, it will not get much bigger than that. The biggest Canadian stadium is in Montreal, and the Katz Group does not want a stadium that size. They want a few more normal seats, a lot more box and luxury suites, and all the non-hockey related revenues from the site.

      Thanks for your comments.

      • godot10 July 22, 2010 at 4:29 am #

        You aren’t going to get density without an anchor project like an arena district to jumpstart it. And without density, you will never have the tax base to address the multitude of inner city issues.

        The Washington Capitals (and Bullets) were dismal failures when they had a suburban arena in Landover. With the MCI Centre and the new baseball stadium, which rejuvenated a rundown section of DC, the Capitals and the Wizards and the baseball team are now rip-roaring successes, and a whole rundown part of DC has been rejuvenated.

        I agree. If it is just the arena, it won’t do much (see Northlands). That is why one really needs an arena district with partners who have delivered before and aren’t reliant on taxpayer dollars. Northlands has no capital and no partners with capital. They rely on public capital. Which is why 118 Ave is a wasteland.

        From the cities’ point of view, it all depends on the funding model. $100 million from Katz directly into a city-owned arena is important It will derisk the arena from the city’s point of view makes the cost of a downtown arena for the city about the same as renovating Northlands Coliseum, with less risk, since Katz and AEG will have skin in the game. Only the city would have skin in the game renovating Northlands.

      • Kristin July 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

        As you live downtown, maybe you aren’t familiar with its problems.

        Right now there are dozens of homeless shelters, churches, food banks, etc along 101st to 96th streets a couple blocks east or a couple blocks north, so it is not an issue of the homeless people having no where to go nearby.

        Yes, an arena won’t increase population density, but the Katz group has not proposed an arena, but an entire district filled with businesses and condo high-rises.

        Developing the empty lots by the Greyhound and casino will increase the property value of the places around them – making it profitable to develop derelict locations thereby increasing population density.

        The arena complex, new high-rise behind Grant Mac and any development that follow will put thousands more people in the downtown core.

        Do you think Katz is going to invest 400000000 in something that will not turn a profit? At this point in time he’s asking the city to commit about 200000000 – which is smart business, getting the city to share the risk.

        Are you worried the city might not recoup the investment? I am more worried that if there is not an immediate plan put in place to replace the vacant lots that fill the downtown core we will lose more big business investment. Without big business our economy doesn’t work, and letting downtown decay will give them an excuse to leave.

    • Art Vandelay July 22, 2010 at 4:29 am #

      Does the gravel parking lot cost taxpayers money?
      Then that’s a far better use than forcing me – a taxpayer – to subsidize a billionaire welfare bum.
      If you’re offended by a downtown parking lot, submit a proposal to the current owner to purchase that lot. Then put up a water park, bird sanctuary, unicorn preserve, or – hey – a hockey rink.

      • Leendert July 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

        A gravel parking does cost the city money. A highrise building brings in much more property tax revenue than a gravel lot.
        Whether a new downtown arena will bring in additional tax revenue that wouldn’t have come in otherwise is a different question. It is not clear whether building a new arena is a zero-sum endeavour.

  12. DSF July 22, 2010 at 2:13 am #

    Yeah, no doubt, having an arena in the 118th area for the last 30 years has been a godsend.

    More of the same please Sir.

    • Andy Grabia July 22, 2010 at 2:22 am #

      Just more proof that arenas don’t work as revitalization tools.

      • godot10 July 22, 2010 at 3:51 am #

        That is because Northlands is a state-sponsored private company using taxpayer money to make private profits. They have never built anything with their own capital. They political connections to get public capital.

    • Chad D July 22, 2010 at 2:26 am #

      I can’t tell if DSF’s comment is ironic or not, but either way it only buffers the point that to throw tax dollars on a site two miles away for the mythical, unicorns-humping idea of downtown “revitalization.”

      • Chad D July 22, 2010 at 2:28 am #

        Oops: I forgot to add “is a bad idea.”

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