The downtown arena topic has held media and citizen attention for much of my first term as a City Councillor. The progression of this project has been, by no means, an expedited process, and many have been frustrated by this. Projects of this scale are extremely complex and it should be expected that the negotiations would be long and arduous. With both the City and the Katz Group understanding the great opportunity that exists for our downtown if a catalyst project like this is developed, a proposed framework for the construction, ownership, and operation of a new arena was brought to Council on January 23, 2013 and it was approved.
The structure of the framework is similar to the October 2011 motion that Council approved to initiate negotiations with the Katz Group, however there are three changes from this earlier motion. These changes allow the City to reduce costs on the related LRT infrastructure, require the Katz Group to pay for the increased costs to the Winter Garden, and split the increased costs from the October 2011 arena construction figures evenly between the City and the Katz Group. I voted in favour of the negotiation framework in October 2011, and I felt that the proposed changes did not inappropriately augment the City’s financial obligations to the project, and continued in the spirit of my initial support and thus I voted to approve the ownership and operating framework.
On May 15, 2013, my Council Colleagues and I discussed the missing construction funds, and after much debate about possibly using the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grants from the Provincial Government to fill the funding gap, it was determined that this was not the fitting solution to the problem. Rather, it was suggested that the missing funds should come from an expansion of the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL), along with a further injection of $15 million that was offered from the Katz group. With a vote of 10-3 in favour of filling the funding gap in this manner, Council approved the budget to begin construction of the new Edmonton Downtown Arena, and with this approval, the project took an important step forward. Now that this project has achieved a significant milestone going from questioning funding frameworks to actually agreeing to move forward with its construction, I will work to ensure that construction progresses at an appropriate pace.
I know this issue has, and will continue to be a very divisive topic. My hope is that people will soon be able to see that this is not a scenario where only one side of the debate cares about Edmonton, and the other does not. With the City partnering to build this infrastructure, a key puzzle piece in what we plan to be an energetic and vibrant downtown will be developed. Around this, other projects will grow, and with them bring life back to our downtown. While many citizens say they will never attend an event in this venue, I am confident even those who never set foot in the building will experience value and benefit from this development. A strong and vibrant downtown is the foundation of a thriving city, and this building will help build the downtown that Edmonton needs and deserves. This is truly an exciting time for Edmontonians, our Downtown, and the City as a whole.
For more information on the Downtown Arena District, please visit: http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/projects_redevelopment/downtown-arena.aspx