EDMONTON - On the same day Mayor Stephen Mandel set an Oct. 17 “drop-dead date” for the Katz Group to explain what it wants in an arena agreement, Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz was in Seattle, and the Washington state city approved a new $480-million-US arena project.
“I can confirm that Daryl Katz, Patrick LaForge, Kevin Lowe and others from the Oilers leadership group are in Seattle for meetings and to attend the Seahawks game,” Katz Group vice-president Bob Black, who was also with the group on Monday, said in a statement released to the media.
“We remain committed to working with city administration to achieve a deal commensurate with what Winnipeg and Pittsburgh have done to sustain the NHL in those small markets,” Black said. “If we can achieve such a deal, the Oilers will remain in Edmonton and we can get on with the important work of developing the new arena and investing in the continued revitalization of Edmonton’s downtown core.”
While the Katz Group being in Seattle sends a provocative message to city council, not to mention the Oilers’ fan base, Mandel wasn’t hopeful a deal will be reached when he talked to reporters Monday.
“Hopeful wouldn’t be the adjective I would use. I think we’re a long way apart. Right now, I don’t know how far apart we are,” he said. “I think that the Katz Group, whoever it happens to be — it doesn’t have to be Mr. Katz — needs to come to council.”
Mandel, who last week asked representatives from the company that owns the Oilers to bring issues they can’t resolve with city staff to council, said this must happen by the Oct. 17 council meeting.
He called this a “drop-dead date” for a presentation, but wouldn’t give details about what might happen aside from predicting the day will be “interesting.”
“Timing is vitally important. We need to move ahead. I think everybody in the City of Edmonton, including the Katz Group as well as all councillors, is frustrated,” Mandel said.
“What is it? What do you want? We have been dealing with this for four years. You should know by now. … It’s not a complicated issue of what you want. We just don’t know what it is.”
Tuesday morning, Mandel told CTV News: “I don’t know any more than you do why Mr. Katz was there (in Seattle), to go to a football game or to do something different.” The mayor also pointed to the fact the Oilers have a sellout streak of 292 games and questioned whether Seattle — with more professional sports franchises and college teams — could consistently sell out 18,300 seats a game.
To those who argue the city should build the arena at any cost, Mandel said the city is “darned if you do and darned if you don’t” make a deal with the Katz Group.
The Katz executives, who were joined in Seattle by former Oilers great Wayne Gretzky, toured the old Key Arena before attending the NFL game between the Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.
“Nonetheless, and as the City of Edmonton is aware, the Katz Group has been listening to proposals from a number of potential NHL markets for some time,” Black said in his statement. “After more than four years of trying to secure an arena deal and with less than 24 months remaining on the Oilers’ lease at Rexall Place, this is only prudent and should come as no surprise.
“We are extremely grateful to Oilers’ fans for their patience and loyalty as we work through this process towards what we sincerely hope will be a long and successful future for the Oilers in Edmonton.
“We have no further comment on the status of our discussions with other markets at this time.”
Although the city administration has been approached to work out any problems, and he has spoken to someone from the company, Mandel said he isn’t sure matters are any further ahead than they were a week ago.
The city reached a 17-part framework agreement last October on how to finance, build and operate a $450-million downtown arena, but a final binding contract hasn’t been completed.
Mandel has said the cost could now reach $475 million.
Earlier this month, councillors held a closed-door meeting to discuss issues raised by the Katz Group, which reportedly include an ongoing $6-million subsidy to help with operating costs if casino dollars aren’t available. There is also a proposal to house city employees in an office tower to be built adjacent to the arena.
Councillors rejected the company’s request for more public money.
In a Journal interview last week, owner Daryl Katz said a “mechanism to offset capital and operating costs of the new arena” had been contemplated from the beginning of negotiations.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to city council, he said.
The project will spur billions of dollars worth of downtown investment that will produce taxes that could cover the operating subsidy, he said.
Katz hopes a final deal can be reached in the next couple of months, saying the longer it takes the more construction costs will rise.
But Mandel said people in Edmonton are becoming frustrated.
“We have an original deal that we have all agreed to. Apparently, for some reason, that’s not good enough now,” he said. “People want this to go ahead, but not at any price … There’s all kinds of confusion out there. It would be nice if someone came and clarified it.”
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