Downtown Arena A Sound Idea...

April 25, 2007

“As long as it doesn’t cost me any money, that is.” That statment seems to go hand-in-hand with any discussion about a new arena located in the downtown core. It’s a debate that’s been floating around for years and seems to have reached a boiling point within the past few weeks or so. This follows an announcement by Northlands that refurbishing Rexall Place will cost a tasty quarter billion. Preliminary estimates on a new arena are in the $400M to $500M range. It makes good finacial sense to build a new arena, IF the price tag is in that range. However, I believe that no small amount of caution is necessary when considering this. Fortunately, Mayor Mandel has appointed a task force to study the cost impact of such a project.

A construction project of this scope would, without question, go over budget. It won’t matter what the budget will be, it will invariably cost more than anyone would have thought. Building something this big is risky. Steel and copper prices are volatile and unpredictable. One spike in the market and suddenly you’re spending another ten mil on structural steel and rebar. Or another quarter mil on electrical cable and building wire. Beyond those concerns, the big question is this: Who will build the damn thing? Who has the labour force and the financial wherewithal to execute the job? Certainly someone will do it, but there aren’t many general contractors out there with that kind of muscle. PCL is the only one that comes to mind. If you’ve only got a few players (or one player, as the case may be) bidding on the thing, guess what that does to the price? I can see many contractors walking away from this project simply because it would be too easy to lose the farm on something this size. Of course I’m no expert, but when you factor in labour issues, fluctuating raw material costs and the sheer size and scope of the job, I could see a new arena running close to a billion dollars.

Which is not to say that it shouldn’t be done. Rexall Place is a crumbling, decrepit building. Improvements must be made. If properly implemented (i.e. with new and exciting retail & entertainment in the surrounding area), the long-term financial impact of a new arena would surely outweigh any construction cost overruns (one would hope, anyways). The big question is this: Who is going to pay for it? Mandel has stated that he doesn’t want taxpayers on the hook for it, but that well-intentioned idea seems a tad unrealistic. It looks like he’s changed his tune a little, but still doesn’t want to have to dig too deeply into taxpayer’s pockets. The reality is that a project of this size can’t materialize without some form of government subsidy.

Let me go on record as being a cautious supporter of the downtown arena project. It would inject needed life into the downtown area and help to bring our fair burg up to snuff. Lets be realistic with the costs and let the taxpaying citizenry know what to expect.

Vignette #188

11 reader comments (closed)

1

Handel

A downtown arena is a sound idea, and a long overdue consideration. The real issue is real estate and parking. Plunking a new facility downtown is all well and good, but where do you park thousands of cars? We’ll have to see what an architect can come up with, but I’m skeptical about the parking issue.

Apr 25, 2007 • 08:55

2

Stacey Q.

I’d agree the parking issue is a big one and those who live in the area of the arena will be really affected by the crowds and drunks after a game pissing in their back yards like they already do to those who live in the stadium and colliseum areas. I still think there are more important issues than this in Edmonton like housing everyone can afford.

Apr 25, 2007 • 13:32

3

Gravel

@ Handel – Agreed. Parking is a big one. There’s not enough parking downtown as it is, let alone with a huge rink down there.

@ Stacey – Agreed, as well. I used to know someone who lived near the Stadium and they had many problems with idiots after Esks games and events. People pissing in their yard, sleeping in their yard, parking in their back yard. Yeah. That likely won’t change with a new facility (unfortunately).

RE: The housing issue. Agreed. Affordable housing is a more pressing concern than a new home for the Oilers. From what I can tell, that concern is being addressed (i.e. entry-level condos in existing neighbourhoods). The arena issue is still an important one, though.

Apr 25, 2007 • 14:14

4

ink slinger

Like most everyone else, I don’t know how they would solve the parking problem. Having lived downtown for the past couple of years, and having spent a year living across the street from the proposed site, I can honestly say I don’t think they could solve the parking problem unless they built underground parking beneath the arena (which would be, I suspect, unlikely to happen).

There is an Impark lot across the street, as well as a parkade structure attached to the bottom of the apartment I used to live in, but these two locations combined are still likely to be far too small (though, admittedly, the parkade is almost always empty after 5 o’clock, as the vast majority of people living in that building don’t own cars).

If the task force can come up with a reasonable solution to the parking problem, I’d likely get behind this project.

Apr 25, 2007 • 18:22

5

Scott

From what I understand, the proposed downtown site would include underground parking for 6000 vehicles. Apparently this is closely tied in with the infrastructure already in place for an additional LRT stop that would exit directly in to the new building…

Apr 26, 2007 • 11:35

6

ink slinger

6000 vehicles? That’s almost to the point of being excessive, I think. But, I suppose it’s better to have far too any parking spots than not quite enough.

Apr 26, 2007 • 21:48

7

Gravel

Wow. 6000 cars. That’s a shitload for an underground parkade. I’d love to see the drawings for this thing. Must be something.

Apr 27, 2007 • 00:15

8

Scott

Now that I think about it, “underground paking for 6000 vehciles” seems large. I’m trying to find the article I found this in, but no luck as of yet…

Apr 27, 2007 • 10:24

9

thomas

I’d like to go on record as VERY hesitant about a downtown location for this project. A couple of reasons: 1) parking: we are a car culture (we, specifically Edmonton, is a car-climate). We don’t make it easy on ourselves to bus, or LRT it anywhere and, despite global warming, it gets cold here in the winter. 2) the dark, vastness of this building and its implicit parking when there are NO events happening, will be a blight on the downtown, a black hole, a killer of energy. The Oilers don’t play every night. There is not a concert every night.
I’d love to see Northlands get off the hockey bandwagon, go back to being a small agricultural society, which is what it does best. Why not actually do what Edmontonians voted for and shut down the municipal airport, build the new arena there — loads of space for an arena, and parking. And loads of space for a little car race every year too. Why not encourage somebody to build a mile horse-racing track while we’re at it, something Northlands dropped the ball on years ago. Donnating the land for a new Municipal Airport arena would be a painless way to help fund the project…and in the future, a tax-revenue source.
My three cents!
t

Apr 27, 2007 • 12:43

10

Gravel

@Thomas: Good points, all. And GREAT idea, re: The Municipal airport. It would be nice to see the space (airport) turned into something with more tangible value. We’ll have to see what shakes out of this task force report…

Apr 27, 2007 • 16:18

11

ink slinger

Thomas, those are all good points. I was actually going to post something very similar after reading Paula Simons’ column the other day.

As for building something at the Muni, that’s a GREAT idea. I actually really, really like that idea. There is the odd plane that flies in and out of there, but it’s essentially a really large vacant lot.

Building a new arena/entertainment complex would likely be a much better use of the land. Plus, it would be an infill project, rather than some terrible expansion into the ‘burbs like we tend to do around here. (The downtown arena would also be an infill project, but it just sounds like a bad idea the more I think about it.)

Apr 27, 2007 • 17:47

Rexall Place, Edmonton.  April 2007

Rexall Place, Edmonton. April 2007

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