The plot thickened yesterday, as Edmonton Oilers’ owner Darryl Katz sought the city’s financial support to help build a new downtown 18,000-seat arena and entertainment district for his beloved franchise.
Wednesday’s face-to-face meeting was the first between council and the Katz Group, and was held in front of a packed council chamber with thousands expected to watch the proceedings online.
At the conclusion of the two-hour plus discussion, more questions seemingly remained unanswered then did prior to the highly anticipated Katz Group proposal.
Nonetheless, the process of determining whether the Oilers will play in a new arena or not – did yield some clarity.
This is what we now know today:
- the Katz Group will not renew their lease on the team’s current digs, Rexall Place, managed by a company called Northlands, once the team’s current agreement expires in 2014.
- Darryl Katz is committed to contributing a whopping $200M to a project estimated to cost $450M; $100M towards the construction of a new downtown arena/practice facility and an additional $100M for development of a surrounding entertainment district.
- the Katz Group would agree to turn over the keys to the new arena to the city, if need be, to expedite the process of nailing down an agreement with the city to partner on a new arena.
- the Katz Group would agree to sign a “location agreement” that would guarantee the Oilers remain in Edmonton into the future, if need be, if a deal with the city can be reached to build a new downtown arena complex.
- contrary to what Forbes Magazine has reported, the Oilers are allegedly losing money – millions to be exact. Oilers President Patrick LaForge suggests Katz has subsidized the Oilers to the tune of millions since acquiring the team two years ago.
- despite “the location agreement” proposed by Katz, the group has never stated it would move the copper and blue if a deal with council for a new arena can’t be consummated.
- allegedly, the Oilers are the only NHL team to not receive non-hockey revenues (concerts, trade shows, parking etc.) – this is why, suggests Katz, the current Oilers are not a sustainable business.
- Rexall Place is the second oldest arena in the league, behind the New York Islanders’ Nassau Coliseum.
- allegedly, Edmonton is the smallest NHL market.
The Edmonton-born billionaire, with family behind him, sounded sincere in his pitch to council. The following is paraphrased from Katz’s presentation.
“I’ll be the first to admit we’ve made this process difficult, at times, for council, so let me be the first to apologize to council, but understand, our hearts were always in the right place. I love this city.
“It’s no secret I have a life-long passion for the Oilers, and would love to see the Stanley Cup back in Edmonton. But it’s about more than that.
“They are an essential part of our history, our community and our economy, and we’re fortunate to have them. It is also a business, which needs to be viable, and currently it is not.”
“Edmonton is a great city, but if we don’t move forward, we risk falling behind. At the end of the day the real question is How do we make Edmonton better? How do make this northern city the most viable destination.”
“Think about the Heritage Classic. That event is a marquee event in the NHL season now, which is annually acknowledged that Edmonton created that event – our city.”
“Jobs, a jolt of investment to our urban centre would be generated, by developing a world class sports and entertainment centre at the core of our city. I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are in a region that is poised to be the Oil capital of the world. We are the gateway to the north.
“It is achievable and I’m willing to do my part to make it viable. I’m prepared to sign a location agreement that will ensure the Oilers remain here. I’m also intent on investing another $100M in the surrounding district development.
“Today, I’m asking council to give city administration a mandate to negotiate a deal to move forward with development of a new downtown arena. Together we have a wonderful opportunity to do something very memorable for our community.”
City councillors, some obviously perturbed by Katz’s handling, thus far, of his proposed project, which has included the acquisition of a key downtown parcel of land and subsequent public meetings, but no face-to-face with council until today, took the opportunity to tune in their billionaire son to the finer details of city protocol.
“If you expect the city to own and pay for a portion of a new downtown arena, shouldn’t we be involved in the determination of its location and design.”
Edmonton council also contains a segment of “Northlands loyalists; those whom would prefer the Katz Group would cozy up to Edmonton-based managers of Rexall Place. Instead, the Katz group has hired AEG, the L.A.-based sports and entertainment conglomerate that helped bring the Staples Centre and surrounding entertainment district alive, as well as similar districts in Kansas City and London, England.
On Edmonton councillor asked pointedly: “Are you saying that you won’t work with Northlands?
KG: “We’ve had discussions with Northlands, and at some point, we decided to move on.”
Politics aside, and there were plenty today, Katz has upped his ante formidably, committing another $100M to the project. Those members of Edmonton City Council with a hard-on for Northlands, need to realize that, moving forward, compromise will be required to embrace a vision of such magnitude that could change the landscape of this city’s downtown core for decades to come.
The wildcard facing Katz, aside from solidifying the support of three levels of government not to mention 1.2 million Edmontonians ? It’s a municipal election year in the Alberta capital.
Try getting any politician to latch his sled to a hockey owner’s $450M dream!
In the meantime Oiler fans, keep your chins up and your sticks down.
About the Author
Written by Scott Pattison
Scott is an award-winning sports writer whose career spans more than 20 years. He's proudly covered the Oilers since moving to the Alberta capital in 2000.