Edmonton mayor on new Oilers arena: 'The time is now to move ahead'
Edmonton mayor Mandel drills city council with impassioned message to focus on overall downtown improvement, not just a new hockey arena
Mayor Stephen Mandel speaks during debate over the new arena budget at City Hall July 17, 2012.
Photograph by: Jason Franson, edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - The subject was the downtown arena yet again, but Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, the ol’ ballplayer, wanted to deliver a high, hard one.
He sure did that, drilling the city councillors with a message that was equal parts carpe diem and keep your eye on the freakin’ ball.
In an impassioned speech just before city council voted 10-3 for consultants to continue design work on the proposed $450 million downtown arena, Mandel reminded them to focus not on the hockey arena, but on the overall downtown improvement.
He admonished them to get off the fetish with Oilers owner Daryl Katz’s wallet and think about the future of the city they are supposed to lead.
“I get frustrated when we keep talking about an arena,” said Mandel, who celebrates his umpty-second birthday today. “This is about downtown Edmonton and its development.
“We have spent $9 billion in this city; $150 million in recreation centres in the southeast end of the city; $140 in the southwest end of the city. We’re building a new library and recreation centre in the southwest of the city. We’re budgeting about $800 million for an LRT to the southwest.
“We’re budgeting for $1.5 billion for an LRT to the southeast end of the city. We are building bridges and roads and libraries.
“When does downtown get its fair share to develop it? That’s what I believe this is all about.”
For Mandel, the time clearly is now, with the arena process in the schematic design phase, and excavation slated to begin in January 2013 with a view to completion by the fall of 2015, so the Oilers can skate there to start the 2015-16 NHL season.
Tuesday’s arena dialogue was all about the latest update reports on design and the overall cost, as well as revenue projections from the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) that is meant to help fund the project.
Cost estimates have been nudging up toward $485 million, so city administrators, along with representatives from Icon Venue Group, the project manager, 360 Architecture, the architect, and city administration have been scouring the plans for savings on parking spaces, the quality of concourse floors, whether the exterior skin is zinc or stainless steel or a combination of both, the size of the green rooms and dressing rooms for performers, and much else.
On Tuesday, city council got its kick at the can with a thorough, detailed discussion on the arena from all sides and top to bottom.
Which was all well and good, but Mandel didn’t want council to lose sight of the big picture. Rather, he wants them to balance a quality, landmark design with a reasonable budget he believes can remain at, or close to $450 million.
“Our downtown sorely needs an evolutionary project that’s going to make a change to our city,” he said. “This council has had the vision to do things when other councils have not.
“ ... Put behind you the idea of whether Mr. Katz is going to make or not make money. He is rich today, he’ll be rich tomorrow, he’ll be rich the day after.
“This is not about his wealth. He’s got it. This is about Edmonton. And maybe we can once in a while put behind us a concern we have about pennies and nickels and build this great city and do things that are best for the city.”
Outside the council chamber, Mandel remained passionate about the city’s downtown vision.
“I don’t want to build a piece of (crap), either. This is going to be standing for 40 years. I don’t want to drive by something that looks like a piece of garbage.”
Neither, he believes, do a majority of the citizens of Edmonton.
“Citizens have spoken loudly and clearly,” Mandel said. “A great majority want to see this project go ahead, whether or not they support the funding formula ... they want to see this arena. They care about downtown.
“The time is now to move ahead with this.
“And also, for the Katz Group, for us to get together and finalize some of the challenges we now face. If we’re going to build this bloody thing, we need to get together and find consensus and find differences we have among ourselves at this point and solve them.”
It’s clear the ballplayer hasn’t lost any zip on his fastball, even when he’s discussing a project centred on a hockey arena.
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