Battle of Alberta: Arena Wars Pt. 1, “A New Hope”
On February 16, 2016, Rogers Media Executive Scott Moore published the following ‘tweets’ on his Twitter account:
“Just had a tour of Rogers Place Arena in Edmonton 6 months to opening. It will be–by far–the most impressive arena in North America.”
“… Overall, amazing architecture.”
These statements were made in regards to the massive construction undertaking which began to emerge as a dominant conversation topic in Edmonton in 2011. But, in contrast to the optimism which is gracing the project as it takes form, it has not been all sunshine and stadium beers over the last five years.
Built in 1974, the Oilers’ current home, Rexall Place is currently the NHL’s second-oldest arena. Five Stanley Cup winning squads have called the building home. However, lately, Rexall Place has frequented lists of “Worst Arena’s in the NHL,” sat near the bottom of “Fan Experience” rankings, and even racked up 24 health code violations, which has earned it the prestigious title of “Canada’s worst major sports stadium for food safety.”
In July of 2008, Daryl Katz purchased the Edmonton Oilers franchise for $200 million dollars. Then, the pharmaceutical mogul quickly enacted his plan of action: to construct a proper home for the Oilers, while revitalizing Edmonton’s sleepy downtown.
Initially, skeptical voices in the public sounded with fury when it was learned that Daryl Katz was contributing a mere $100 Million of the anticipated $600 million required for the project. Many were upset with (former) Mayor Stephen Mandel for using his influence and power to appropriate municipal, provincial, and public funds to ensure the imminence of Katz’s vision coming to fruition.
Now, after a tumultuous journey in which the eccentric billionaire repeatedly stepped on the public’s toes, Katz has committed $161 million. The City of Edmonton has agreed to contribute $279 million- mostly through a Community Revitalization Levy. The CRL practically acts as a loan that will be paid back by the real estate projects which this arena project will bring to life; these investments appear to be substantial. Still, this means that over $200 million is coming from Edmonton taxpayers, which has angered many.
But the impact on the economy and identity of Edmonton cannot be understated and is only beginning to be understood. So far, $2.5 billion worth of investments and real estate development in Edmonton’s downtown can be traced directly to the arena and the “Ice District.” Perhaps the centerpiece of the ripple of construction that is expanding from the arena is the 62-story Stantec Tower, which will be Canada’s second-highest standing tower.
The state-of-the-art arena facility will seat almost 19,000 people. It will also be connected to many shops, hotels, and restaurants, a smaller hockey rink that will host up to 1000, and a massive High Definition scoreboard screen that is slated to be the biggest in the world.
Construction began on March 3, 2014, and the building is finally taking shape. Now, the excitement around the city is beginning to swell. Prior pessimism is eroding as Edmonton’s dreary downtown is beginning to brim with potential. Property values near the nucleus of the action are soaring and Edmonton is receiving international attention for this ambitious urban accomplishment. One can only hope that the Edmonton Oilers, who have dwelt in the basement of the NHL’s standings for nearly a decade, can be ready to do their new home justice when they begin the 2016-2017 season this coming October.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, their rivals in Calgary are planning a sports facility of their own, which we will explore in Part 2 of this series…