News: Public gets peek at arena

Published in the May 7th issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Public gets peek at arena

Edmonton Sun

Hundreds of Edmontonians flocked to the first-ever downtown arena and entertainment district’s open house Thursday, to see firsthand the concepts and details for the proposed project.

“We’re looking for the public to first of all have an opportunity to learn about the project and to tell us what their thoughts are,” said Bob Black, executive vice president of the Katz Group and project leader for the Edmonton Arena District. “We’ve inspired an awful lot of interest amongst the citizens of the city and this is really a vehicle for us to have face-to-face conversations with members of the general public.”

People crowded into the Art Gallery of Alberta, where displays outlining arena features, sustainability, a proposed indoor Winter Garden, downtown accessibility, including parking and traffic information, were set up. Katz Group members and other project experts were also on-hand to talk about how and why the city would benefit from the downtown revitalization project.

“To revitalize downtown, I am for it. I would like to go to a beautiful Winter Garden in the winter. Something like that downtown would be absolutely wonderful,” said Edmontonian Rita Bruins.

But Scott Hennig with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the open house failed to discuss one important aspect of the downtown arena and entertainment complex: funding.

“Unfortunately when you look around this room here today, there’s not a single display that has anything with a dollar sign next to it or with an explanation of how this is going to be funded,” Hennig said.

“If taxpayers are going to be paying for this, then there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, the first of which is why.”

Hennig said a number of the arenas that have been built across Canada in the past 20 years have all been built with funding coming almost solely from the private sector, not from taxpayers’ pockets.

However, Black said the open house was not meant to discuss funding and the Katz Group is still working on developing a funding model.

“Weare working through a process with the city to arrive at a funding model that makes sense for all who are concerned,” Black said.

Despite a lack of funding details, the open house was met with positive reaction from most Edmontonians in attendance.

People were encouraged to write comments or concerns on post-it notes set up throughout the area. Some notes like ones that read “will create unbearable traffic” and “let the people wanting to build the arena pay for it, not the taxpayers” reflected a portion against the downtown project.

But many notes spoke positively about the project and about using taxpayers’ dollars to help fund it.

“I’m very grateful with the level of enthusiasm we’ve had in the building today. (We’ve had) many, many expressions of support and we’re very encouraged by that,” Black said.

“We think that this could be a real game-changer for our city.”

Black said the next step would be for the Katz Group to go over feedback taken from the open house.

The “mixed-use” district will take up 16 acres of land at 104 Avenue between 101 and 104 streets, land currently occupied by the Baccarat Casino and parking lots. The district would include not only a new sports and entertainment arena but also a new shopping centre, office space, hotels, residential housing and more.

While there are no new figures relating to the downtown project, the Katz Group estimated in February it could cost nearly $1.5 billion to construct.

Last month, the group submitted an application to the city for the Edmonton Arena District, which will need to be reviewed before going forward to council.

The Katz Group has said it would like to have the project completed by 2014.

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