EDMONTON - Man, it’s just no fun being Northlands right now, is it?
They’re out of the auto racing business and everybody is thrilled about that.
Then there was that headline Tuesday proclaiming them “Dead last in food safety” in Canadian NHL buildings. Capital EX isn’t exactly drawing rave reviews this week, and last week Daryl Katz in no uncertain terms said Northlands will have nothing to do with running his proposed new downtown arena and that the Oilers would not stay and play past 2014 in any refurbished Rexall Place.
While the Edmonton Eskimos are at least taking some of the focus off Northlands at the moment, the biggest question in town should still be, what does Edmonton do about Northlands?
You can’t just punt them entirely out of the picture.
Even if they deserve it for effectively killing a vibrant downtown scene with Klondike Days when it was a huge hit because it was taking people away from their midway.
Even if they’ve reduced the badly named Capital EX to such a sorry show it isn’t even a good state fair in a very small state where the pumpkins don’t grow very big.
Even if Northlands effectively devalued the Canadian Derby beyond belief until a couple of race office employees took it on themselves to prove it could be brought back to something resembling its former status last year.
Even if they’ve totally botched trying to promote the world championship chuckwagon races here so far.
Even if they almost twice had the Canadian Finals Rodeo rustled from them by Calgary and needed an outstanding job from a local business committee to make it a city-wide event.
The group convinced workplaces to encourage employees to adopt western dress while cowboys run rodeo stock through the streets of Edmonton to give it special sizzle, something Northlands didn’t follow through on annually.
Even if horse racing in general around the world is dying and unlikely to pay its way ever again.
Even if their concert totals, which are impressive, are a bit of an illusion because the roof of Calgary’s Saddle
dome won’t hold the staging required today by many concerts, giving Edmonton everything.
It’s a long list.
You can call Daryl Katz’s gun-to-the-head approach exceptionally unseemly, but you can’t knock his putting up $100 million into the rink, a figure which will likely be able to be negotiated upward if you use the hostile takeover of the Edmonton Investors Group as a template.
Nobody’s interested in Northlands idea of spending $200-$250 million of taxpayers’ money to refurbish Rexall Place and dramatically reduce capacity in the interim when a similar amount with no rate-payer hit would give you a beautiful new rink to centre an exciting new downtown sports and entertainment district.
So what do you do about Northlands?
Maybe there’s opportunity here.
With some recent reductions in the number of board members, it should only be the beginning of downsizing. This is clearly the time and place for the organization to be reinvented.
How about making part of the deal that Northlands gets use of the new downtown arena free to run the rodeo plus one other event that Katz and company may not want complicating the Oilers schedule (Brier, etc.) every year?
And how about the proposal, which I believe came from within Northlands itself, when the city first put a group together to investigate building a new arena and produced a report indicating it should be built downtown.
Back when Northlands still had hopes of running the downtown arena, somebody over there came up with an excellent concept.
Instead of putting the wrecking ball to the old building, as is done when most new arenas are built, remove the roof, tear down most of the upper deck, put a new roof back on and have a terrific 8,000-10,000 seat rink remaining.
And work out a deal with Katz where the Oil Kings would be the prime tenant playing most of their regular-season games there for some sort of realistic rate of rental.
The Edmonton Rush would also likely remain at a more reasonable rental rate. And there are all sorts of national events which play places like London, Ont., Saskatoon, Halifax, etc., which better suit a building of that capacity.
There’s room in there to make something work that would add to the quality of life in Edmonton which should be the goal in every direction here.
At the same time, a better Northlands could be built with readjusted aims and goals which should start with building a bigger, better annual fair with a whole lot more to offer than the one which sits out there right now.