John MacKinnon: New Edmonton Oilers arena on the edge of taking shape (with video)


Rogers Place has gone from being conceptual to tangible development

The view from the top of the Epcor Tower of construction of Rogers Place hockey arena in downtown Edmonton on June 2, 2014.

The view from the top of the Epcor Tower of construction of Rogers Place hockey arena in downtown Edmonton on June 2, 2014.

Photograph by: Ryan Jackson Ryan Jackson, Edmonton Journal

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EDMONTON — Here’s the thing with Rogers Place, the city’s downtown arena project — it’s about buzz now, not static.

It took more than four years, but the painful, ear-piercing static that was the soundtrack of contentious, seemingly interminable, and necessary negotiations has died down.

Now, there’s buzz around the look of the $480-million arena and the surrounding district, details of which were unveiled in April. The project will cost $606.5 million all in.

Buzz around what it will be like to watch a game or enjoy a concert there, about how the surrounding district will help animate Edmonton’s increasingly dense and diverse downtown.

Buzz around every aspect of the 819,200 square-foot arena, slated to open in the fall of 2016.

Buzz, for example, about the high-definition video screen, touted by Katz Group executive vice-president Bob Black on Monday as the largest in the NHL, five times the size of the one currently at Rexall Place.

Black was among representatives from the City of Edmonton, the Katz Group, ICON Venue Group, the project manager and PCL, the Edmonton-based construction outfit that is general contractor, who toured reporters around the arena site, where a sizable hole has been dug between 101st and 104th Streets, bounded by 104th and 105th Avenues.

The ground is being prepared, there are about 30 utility trailers parked on the east end of the project site.

About 560 of the 700 piles that will be driven into the ground are in place. There are some concrete columns that, if you squint just so, do seem to be the foundation of the access ramp to the Winter Garden, the public space that will straddle l04th Ave.

There are about 150 workers on the site, along with two massive cranes, two smaller ones, eight pile-driving contraptions and about 25 other pieces of heavy machinery.

By the fall, the site will become a Meccano set come to life, dominated by cranes three times the size of the ones on-site now. That’s when steel erection will commence, and the arena will begin taking shape.

That process is expected to last one year, during which the number of workers will increase, reaching about 500 “when we’re really going,” said Mike Staines, PCL’s construction manager for Rogers Place.

All in all, Monday’s site tour was pleasant but a bit abstract. See that flag over there? That’s centre ice. All right, then.

Listen, it’s early days. Still, there were more than 30 journalists along for the bus ride, which is telling.

This will be far more than the spiffy, new home of the Edmonton Oilers, after all.

It also is meant to be an eye-catching gathering place for a wide menu of sports and entertainment activities, a catalyst for a more lively downtown, and a source of civic pride.

As the pile drivers hammer in the pilings and Edmonton’s newest piece of civic infrastructure gradually takes shape, the sense of expectation is more and more noticeable. How significant a role is civic pride playing as the construction proceeds?

“I can tell you a lot,” Staines said. “When I first got involved in this project a couple of years ago, the number of people in our organization that wanted to be a part of our team was unheard of.

“We’re using our experience across North America from our colleagues that constructed those (buildings) to learn the lessons and be part of it. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a great looking building, and we all want to be part of it and say we’re a part of it.

“That was very important for our company being Edmonton is our home.”

PCL built the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, showpieces all. But it’s one thing to build a landmark building somewhere in North America, quite another to build one in your hometown.

There will be about 9,000 seats in the lower bowl of the new arena, including more than 1,100 loge-style seats.

“They come in fours and sixes,” said Dan Vaillant of ICON Venue Group, the project manager. “So, smaller companies or groups of individuals can buy one of these loge boxes, they don’t have to fill a 24-seat suite on a regular basis.”

Vaillant added the initial investment for a loge “is not going to be anywhere near what it is for a suite. I think that will work well in Edmonton.”

The amphitheatre whose seats will be ‘top-loaded,’ meaning ticket holders will enter via the main concourse and walk down to their seats. The further down you walk, the better the seat.

“And then the concourses are open,” Vaillant said. “Some of the major-league baseball parks started this a while back and now hockey is getting into it. When you go to the concession stand, you’re not disconnected from the activity. You can hear what’s going on, you can turn over your shoulder and see what’s going on. You don’t feel like you’re away from the action, like you’ve gone through a portal.”

Vaillant said: “This project here is going to raise the bar. It’s going to be the building that the next NHL team is going to look to and try to better.”

Precisely how it will raise the bar will become clear over the next 27 months or so.

Follow me on Twitter: @rjmackinnon

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The view from the top of the Epcor Tower of construction of Rogers Place hockey arena in downtown Edmonton on June 2, 2014.

The view from the top of the Epcor Tower of construction of Rogers Place hockey arena in downtown Edmonton on June 2, 2014.

Photograph by: Ryan Jackson Ryan Jackson, Edmonton Journal

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