Anyone read Andy's colossal post about Rexall Place over at BoA? He brings up a forgotten aspect for the civic-minded regarding the on-going debate over a new arena in Edmonton: tradition, a notion flogged by the team in ceremonies that often precede 4-0 losses to the Phoenix Coyotes. Rexall Place (nee Northlands Coliseum), with its many Oilers Cups from the dynastic 1980s, has already become a bit of a shrine to hockey history and a link to the past for many Oilers fans. So yeah, it's a wacky idea, and rather "out there" for a city that seems to pride itself on its ability to build South Edmonton Commons, but would it be so crazy to make Rexall Place the next Fenway or Wrigley Stadium of the NHL?
Adding to that, I'd like to point out two things:
1) According to Northlands' own Financial Statements from 2006, Rexall has a useful life of 50 years. Contrary to what Patrick LaForge says, Rexall is not even really "old" nor is it in any dire need to be mothballed anytime soon. There is plenty of time to make a decision on this matter.
2) In 2005's statements, there is reference to the "mechanical equipment" getting old and needing replacement, but not the building itself.
I think all of this got lost shortly after Northlands' only proposal thus far: a $250 million "renovation," which amounted to a donut wrapping the existing building. It was a non-starter right out of the gate. At that price, why not just rebuild the whole thing, right? Perhaps. But if Northlands had offered a cheaper alternative, in tens of millions, not hundreds, which addressed the actual needs of the property (like a new ice plant for instance, which couldn't be more than $10 million) rather than to pandering to their fickle marquee tenant that pays nothing, there would be something actually worth debating. At some point it became a matter of fact that a new building was needed in the first place.
Many new arena advocates have accused skeptics of "small-town thinking" and "not thinking big." To me, these are the same small-minded Babbitts that have run Edmonton's city planning for way too long, pathetically trying to keep up with the Joneses by rebuilding the United Centre with a Casino attached as if that's going to address downtown's needs. Meanwhile, there's a perfectly good arena with ample parking, a major arterial road and a LRT stop that leads to its doorstep. We know the city can't support two arenas because Northlands says so: Northlands VP Andrew Huntley says the Rexall will likely "be demolished" if a new building is successfully wedged into downtown (nothing says "revitalization" like a big pile of bricks at the end of Wayne Gretzky Drive, eh?).
Again, if this is all predicated on the idea that taxpayers are going to be funding this new arena in part or whole (which wouldn't surprise me: a web board dude countered my argument above with "...but we NEED an arena... I would gladly take a 10% jump in my property tax to help pay for this"). The building, like GM place or the Bell Centre, should be entirely privately funded, lest this city suddenly go all American-City-in-the-1990s and offer a whole lot of tax-paid something for what will amount to almost nothing for the local economy. People will still pull out the well-worn, dog-eared "the team will move" card, but you'd be have to be unfrozen from 1992 not to realize that the city has grown, the team makes more dough than 2/3 of the league, they play rent free and there a lot fewer destinations in the US where they could move; if the Oilers ultimately can't make it here then some other team will (and maybe they'd have better jerseys, too).
In the meantime, the City is actually holding the cards: an NHL-ready arena, free tenancy and the opportunity to spend hundreds of millions of its own dollars more wisely. It was Patrick LaForge who once said "what's good for Edmonton is good for the Oilers." It'd be nice to see that put to the test.
Kris Russell, A Molehill.
2 weeks ago