SUN Hockey Pool

Big-money facelift?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

The Edmonton rink debate has suddenly become more intriguing.

The latest blueprints for another major renovation of Rexall Place calls for two slightly different possibilities at a cost of between $225-$250 million.

With talk of a possible new downtown arena, the new options for Rexall Place would make the rink look very different - on the outside and inside.

According to HOK - one of the world's leading arena architect companies - one option calls for public seating to decrease by nearly 700 seats, but an increase in suites from 66 to 92.

The other option somehow allows for public seating to remain with a goal of still reaching 92 suites.

But apparently central to both plans is a major expansion of public space, essentially a ring attached to the current building.

"They are talking about putting a doughnut around the current Rexall site of approximately 45 feet. It would give a lot more public comfort, a lot more amenities as far as lounges and dining rooms are concerned," said Ken Knowles, Northlands general manager.

The added ring would provide a lot more revenue opportunities for the Oilers and addresses one of the main issues with the 33-year-old rink - which is size.

"(Rexall Place) is roughly 490,000 square feet. The new arenas of today are approximately 720,000 square feet, so there is a huge gap," added Knowles.

"What can be done with this facility is increase the square footage up to roughly 690,000 square feet."

The blueprints were unveiled for the first time last night at a Northlands Park board of directors meeting.

The Sun has learned that HOK representatives were pressed hard by civic officials to reveal a figure for what a new rink would cost, but failed to receive a dollar amount.

However, the Sun has also learned that HOK officials privately revealed their latest arena - meeting the required size standards of new-age rinks - would cost approximately $500 million.

That figure doesn't include land costs.

One estimate suggests a new downtown arena would need 5,000 parking stalls even with nearby LRT access.

Edmonton Oilers president Patrick LaForge listened to last night's presentation by the Kansas-based HOK officials, but declined to say if the hockey club prefers the blueprints for a retrofitted Rexall Place or a new arena.

"The city is seeking world-class solutions and repositioning itself on the world stage," said LaForge.

"I'm all for urban renewal - and we will see where the voyage takes us."

While the Oilers have nearly seven years remaining on their lease at Rexall Place, there is no timetable for when a decision will be made in the rink debate.

Northlands hasn't secured funding for the project and will begin to examine that avenue next.

"I think there are opportunities to get various levels of governments involved," said Knowles.

What is known is that construction would take almost four years with Rexall Place going "dark" after each hockey season, meaning Northlands would lose millions of dollars in lost revenue for other events.

But construction plans would allow the building to reopen for each NHL campaign.

If government and civic leaders eventually choose a new arena, Knowles admits the city couldn't support two facilities.

"We would hope to have a hand in managing (a new arena)," he said.


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