Impassioned plea from Katz

Oilers owner Daryl Katz is trying to open negotiations for a new arena in downtown Edmonton. (QMI...

Oilers owner Daryl Katz is trying to open negotiations for a new arena in downtown Edmonton. (QMI Agency/Amber Bracken)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

It came across as Daryl Katz's way or the highway.

It came across as a gun-to-the-head, give-me-my-way-or-I-take-my-puck-and-go-away bit of bullying.

It came across as such an attempt at bulldozing that was so poorly handled in question and answer that Mayor Stephen Mandell and a couple members of City Council actually had to do some damage control, explaining some realities on behalf of the Katz Group.

But that was after Daryl Katz, himself, spoke.

Katz, in his first public appearance in two years and 19 days, did exceptionally well delivering a passionate speech to city council Wednesday. It was all those members of the Katz Group which followed him which turned it into what, in many ways, was an ugly day.

The Katz Group told council that under no circumstances would the Edmonton Oilers play in Rexall Place, especially a renovated Rexall Place, when their lease runs out in 2014.

The Katz Group also made it quite clear that there was no way they would be party to any plan where Northlands has anything to do with running a new downtown arena, period.

The Katz Group intends to be a big player in that business not just here but in Hamilton and elsewhere, and run it themselves.

It basically put council in the position of being told to punt Northlands out of the picture and demote them to being a bit player in the community. A majority of the citizens probably think it's time to do that anyway, but it's a matter of who is telling who what to do.

It was also made quite clear that while the City of Edmonton would "own" the building, Katz wants all the income from all the events held in the building.

And there was also the snap-to-it suggestion that they'd want a go on all of this by the end of the year.

Katz himself was terrific. If he'd just been the one to answer the questions from the councilors, not his people, one suspects it would have gone a lot better.

"I know we haven't always made it easy -- and I'll be the first to apologize for that -- but I can assure you our hearts are in the right place," he said early in his speech.

He was passionate about his love of the spirit of the community and believing in its future. And that came across.

The Oilers owner, who promised $100 million for a new downtown arena when he bought the team, then took it off the table to put it toward the surrounding entertainment district and then back into the rink again, announced Edmonton could have it both ways.

LARGE INVESTMENT

"As you know, I've invested $200 million to buy the team. At that time I made a commitment to invest $100 million towards the development of a new arena. In addition, I still fully intend to invest at least another $100 million in leading the development of the arena district."

He also said he'd sign a location agreement. But not now. Only if the Oilers were going into a new rink.

So the veiled threat with the dealings with Hamilton is still there.

Katz also set up what was coming.

"It's about sustaining the NHL and the Edmonton Oilers -- in Edmonton -- for the long term ... which today it is NOT," he said.

Paul Marcaccio, the chief financial officer of the Katz Group, made the first impact statement before John Karvellas, the executive VP and general counsel for the Katz Group delivered the statement that the Oilers would not play in Rexall past 2014.

"Today the Oilers are the only team in the NHL that does not control its arena and the only team that does not receive the non-hockey-related revenues from the facility in which they play. For the sake of comparison, in Edmonton those revenues go to Northlands. In Calgary, they do not go to the Stampede Board, they go to the Flames," said Marcaccio and then revealed that the Oilers had lost $9 million in each of the last two seasons.

The Katz Group's very valid points and vision which ought to be exciting everybody in Edmonton was lost in the delivery -- and not by Katz himself.

"To my mind, you're telling us if you don't get what you want, you're not staying," said Coun. Tony Caterina. "You want us to put in the money and you want all the revenues."

The responses were so wobbly that it took the mayor and Coun. Bryan Anderson to explain that a great many city-owned buildings are effectively in the hands of other concerns and don't generate revenue. And that it being "city-owned" would make funding from the provincial government available.

At the end of the afternoon, council did what everybody in the standing-room-only chambers expected them to do, which was agree to appoint administration to enter into discussions with the Katz Group.

In the end, I believe, it's going to get done because the Oilers need the new arena and Edmonton needs the exciting downtown development. But the Katz Group doesn't make it easy.

Katz managed to leave the marathon afternoon in council chambers with the chuck-wagon still in front of the horses.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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