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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

building edmonton's downtown arena.

With Edmonton's mainstream media bubbling in praise of the report supporting the construction a new arena in downtown Edmonton, I can't help but be put a back at the lack of objectivity in the reporting. Judging by the amount of support in today's papers, you'd think that Colin Powell had just made an irrefutable case to the United Nations Security Council...

Here's a quick look at a couple of things that immediately caught my suspicion...

1) The committee that wrote the report was handpicked by someone who had already voiced support for the downtown arena - Mayor Stephen Mandel. Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?

2) The comparisons are reaching. Of course I want Edmonton's downtown to become vibrant, but building a giant hockey rink won't automatically put Edmonton in a position to rival downtown Montreal or New York (like some of the article's have alluded). I'm still not convinced that spending upwards of $450 million (plus land costs) on an arena that will draw the suburbs downtown for a couple hours 2-3 nights a week is what will revitalize downtown. As someone who has lived in the Whyte Avenue area for 4 years, I can tell you that bringing loads of hockey hooligans into an area doesn't revitalize much for the people who are actually living in the neighbourhood.

3) No one seems to be talking about... "Northlands, the non-profit group that runs Rexall Place, released a study in February that said the arena could be rebuilt for $250 million. That report has been shelved while the mayor's committee does its work." (The Battle of Alberta had a good post on this back in October 2007).

4) I think that Journal City Hall columnist Scott McKeen might be getting a little too comfy in his City Hall Office as he spent the majority of his pro-arena article taking aim at those who would rather the public funds be spent on other things, like say, fighting homelessness or fixing infrastructure. McKeen also tried to solidify his case by arguing that the amount of reporters who showed up at yesterday's media conference means Edmontonians should be convinced of the recommendations. Sorry, Scott, but still I remain skeptical.

Through all the frenzy and praise, I'm glad to see that there is still some sensibility on City Council as Councillors Don Iveson, Amarjeet Sohi, Ben Henderson, and Tony Caterina have all publicly stated their skepticism of the report.


Gauntlet said...

Yeah, I heard the Mayor on CBC Radio this morning, and I have to say it sounded like we were being fed a line.

He wants it, he picked a committee to tell people that they want it too, and when pressed by the host he pretended he wasn't forcing the issue, saying "Hey, I'm not putting any money forward. That's for other people to decide."

Yeah, that's for other people to decide, with the clear understanding that unless they decide to do it downtown, the Mayor will do everything in his power to not help.

In comparison to the Rexall renovation he had some good points, though. Renovating Rexall would actually reduce the total number of seats in there, whereas the new place would be twice as big, and you don't lose the revenue from whatever period of time Rexall is shut down for renovations.

A downtown place would also potentially serve as another convention centre, and aspect of it could be open to guests year-round, not only when there is a game on. That would make it more profitable than the existing location, which doesn't have any foot traffic during the day.

Plus, just having some more people walking around downtown whenever there is a game or a concert is going to increase the comfort level of being downtown for everybody else.

So there are arguments that it could help to revitalize the downtown core. It won't do it on its own, of course, and there is still the question of whether or not what it will do is worth the proposed more than $300M in debt-financing backed by future property taxes in the area.

Anonymous said...

Graham Hicks with the Edmonton Sun is also gushing over the prospects of a new down town arena. He comments about the "...very smart communication strategies..." that were used to sell this Mandel initiative to the public. With any sensitive political initiative (which this clearly is) there is always very sophisticated planning involved including: picking the right team of credible business and community leaders; having a respected team leader that knows his way around the media and who can stay on message; using another highly sensitive political issue such as the city budget to sensitize the public to needed budget increases going forward to sustain services and infrastructure (which makes the message of "arena funding won't come from raising taxes" more saleable); timing a Mayor's keynote speech with release of the report and clearing the decks of any other possible news coming out of city hall around the time of the news conference to ensure maximum, unencumbered coverage; use of strategic media leaks prior to official news conference and editorial boards afterwards to amplify and correctly spin the key messages.

Overall a very professional job by a mayor that has certainly learned what it takes to ensure politically sensitive initiatives like this one are successful. I venture to say this is looking to be one of the mayor's legacy projects and that he will be pulling out all the stops to get this done. I just hope city councillors, MLAs (I'm glad to see Minister Dave Hancock provided some sensible thinking to the discussion), federal MPs and the public at large step into this debate with both feet to ensure that tax payer funding does not find its way near this project.

Anonymous said...

While I'm undecided on the best approach to ultimately take, I have two concerns:

1) The Journal article yesterday spoke of building up the surrounding community in terms of shops and restaurants and such. My concern is the creation of what I saw when I visited Yankee Stadium in the Bronx: what I'm sure is a vibrant area on game days with surrouding baseball bars, but what is a boarded-up, deserted, slummy neighbourhood the rest of the time.

2) New LRT stops aren't being built up with park-and-ride properly considered. Calgary does it better. We don't.


ch said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the arena issue. That said, I am plagued by the sense that Edmonton (and especially Mandel) seems to love dreaming up these vague, grandiose revitalization plans and then (unsurprisingly) end up being unable to deliver. Turning the arena into the focal point of a vibrant downtown quarter would require extensive planning, re-zoning and subsidies to foster the type of environment that could lead to sustained revitalization (i.e. beyond 3 hours 2-3 times a week) but there's no real discussion of that anywhere. It's always go big or go home, rather than smaller but deliverable measures.

Also, Scott McKeen's article today, was RIDICULOUS. I couldn't even finish reading it. It was almost nonsensical. Thank you for highlighting this.

Anonymous said...

Good article Dave. I think this plan is being shoved down the City's throat by the mayor & a few of his rich friends. The Edmonton media, who continue to ignore their critical thinking skills, are acting like a bunch of cheerleaders.

Downtown is a not a good fit for something this size. Using the space out at the municipal airport would work much better and it's time we stop wasting that vital space anyways.

Mandel preached a lot about this being "more than just an arena" but now that we see areas such as Jasper Ave and 106th St being discussed, does anyone see how this project will include condo housing, etc? It just won't fit! So we'll get stuck with just an arena, squished into a terribly inadequate space.

But yay, go team.

Anonymous said...

There needs to be way more information made public. And Scott Mckeen is a complete tool, but that's not news.

Nastyboy said...

We need a new arena. Period. Rexall place with all of the nostalgia is a shit hole compared to most modern new arenas. If Edmonton wants to be a big league city, you need to think big.

The owner has already pledged $100 million to the project which is unheard of in modern sports where cities are expected to foot the whole bill.

Man up! Damn the torpedoes! Get R' Done! Random cliche!

clay said...

Interesting post Dave.

Yes: Edmonton needs a new arena

No: It should not happen like this. It is pretty clear that Mandel is trying to make this happen on his own through appointing an "independent committee of businessmen." Thanks for pointing out that Mandel handpicked these guys, Dave. I haven't seen anyone in the media raise any sort of criticism over it. Laziness I suppose. It is a shame because Edmonton deserves better that this. Too bad the next election is all the way in 2010.

Nice to see Iveson asking questions about this. I knew I wouldn't regret that vote.

Jason said...

A downtown arena is a baaad idea. One thing that hasn't been talked about at all is the fact that the most favored location(the downtown post office) is right smack in the heart of Edmonton's inner-city and within a block to 3 homeless shelters and several other agencies that serve high risk individuals. Are those agencies going to forced to move and who is going to move them?

Anonymous said...

Kevin Libin offers great insight into this new arena project in his National Post column today. He pretty much sees it as a slam dunk legacy initiative for mayor Mandel in spite of historical research showing this type of development seldom, if ever, produces the intended results re: downtown town revitalization. I hope the politicians and general public stay on top of this one.