An artist’s conception of Edmonton’s proposed downtown arena.
EDMONTON - A frustrated Mayor Stephen Mandel says the Oilers owner now has no choice but to come before council and publicly state exactly what he wants from the city and taxpayers to move ahead on a downtown arena deal that seems to be falling apart.
Council members looked grim at City Hall on Tuesday, clearly pessimistic on the current state of arena negotiations with Daryl Katz over a proposed new home for his NHL team.
“I think that Mr. Katz’s memory of the history is different than mine,” Mandel said.
“I think council has been incredibly responsive, but I no longer can define what Mr. Katz is asking for or what he’s not asking for.”
Mandel released a statement Tuesday expanding on those comments.
“I would openly ask the Katz Group to release their full position to the public – based on the itemized list which was prepared with both the negotiating teams, so that all items and their economic rationale can be fully understood by the people of Edmonton,” the statement said.
“The only way forward is for the Katz Group to clarify its full position, with associated rationale, so city council and the people of Edmonton can understand the full picture.
“I would therefore invite the Katz Group to attend to city council at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The company’s new demands aren’t just for more capital dollars and an ongoing $6-million subsidy for the proposed arena, Coun. Tony Caterina said.
“They don’t want to pay taxes,” he said. “They want help now in operating the arena. They want a guaranteed subsidy. They want the city to be their tenant in a major office building. They want the casino licence.”
These were the requests presented behind closed doors last week in a meeting Caterina said should have been public.
“If everybody knew exactly what these new positions were, I think everyone would have seen it as council saw it, which is very unreasonable.”
The request not to pay taxes is a non-starter, Caterina said.
“Mr. Katz is a private company and for him to ask for no taxes, for example, really is a non-starter, because part of the taxes coming out of that building were going to go toward the (community revitalization levy) to actually pay for it. That was always the discussion when we were negotiating.”
As for the casino licence request, the city has no jurisdiction to grant that, Caterina said.
“That’s provincial,” he said. “I don’t know where his understanding (comes from) that the city would get him that licence.”
Officials from the city, the province and the Katz Group have discussed the possibility of using casino revenues to fund the arena, but no formal agreement has been reached.
Kathleen Range, press secretary to Finance Minister Doug Horner, said there have been preliminary discussions.
“But nothing has been proposed and nothing has been agreed to.”
Range said the government is looking at new ways to use casino revenues to fund recreational and cultural infrastructure across the province, but said Horner has no plans to change the casino rules for one individual business.
“He certainly wouldn’t change it for one particular operation,” Range said. “It would have to be something every part of the province could benefit from.”
On Monday, Katz made an impassioned appeal to close the deal with city council as soon as possible.
The Oilers owner echoed those remarks Tuesday on the radio program Oilers Now. He said the city committed to “help facilitate” an arrangement with the province for casino gaming revenue that would help him cover the operational costs of the arena.
“You’d have to ask the city what they’ve done in that regard,” Katz said. “It hasn’t materialized and we can accept that, that’s fine, but when it didn’t happen, it didn’t mean we dropped it. We started looking for an alternative mechanism to fill the hole. It is certainly not a new concept.
Jody Korchinski, spokeswoman for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, said no one from the city or the Katz Group has ever approached the province to discuss the terms for an arena casino licence.
“No formal request has been brought to our attention for sharing casino funds – or to have a casino as part of the arena facility. There has been no expression of interest.”
Korchinski said the licence for the casino that currently stands on the site of the proposed arena is held by a Toronto-based company.
If that firm wants to sell its licence to the Katz Group, she said, that would be a private negotiation between the two parties. The Gaming and Liquor Commission would have to approve any such licence transfer.
At the moment, the province has a moratorium on granting new casino licences.
Coun. Don Iveson said his office has seen another surge in emails and phone calls as Edmontonians react to the latest developments.
“There’s a great deal of frustration and resignation out there in the public,” he said, “including from diehard hockey fans who are really concerned with the turn this is taking.”
Coun. Bryan Anderson said it seems as if Katz, seeing his lease running out at Rexall Place, is panicking.
“If they believe that there still is an opportunity to have an ice surface in a downtown arena in time for the 2015 season, he’s probably dreaming in Technicolor – maybe even 2016,” Anderson said.
Katz told the Journal Monday that in the absence of a casino deal he needs another source of revenue, which could be the $6-million annual subsidy from the city.
But Anderson said Sept. 12 was the first time a casino deal was discussed with city councillors. “If that was a big deal, then I think it should have been made a big deal when we were talking about things in October 2011,” he said.
The back and forth on the arena deal has some heads shaking in local sports bars.
Until last week, people seemed to be equally split on the downtown arena project, said Melissa Gamblin, a supervisor and bartender at Jox Sports Bar & Grill on 97th Street. “Some people were excited, some people thought it was a waste of money,” she said.
Now, she said, “our people have said, ‘Whatever. Forget it. Why not just fix the holes in the roads.’ ”
The main thing hockey fans are talking about right now is the NHL lockout. “The last couple weeks it’s been about the lockout,” she said. “The arena hasn’t really been a hot topic.”
With files from Karen Kleiss, Sarah O’Donnell and Paula Simons
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