SUN Hockey Pool

It's not about Oilers

An arena is more than just about hockey, says the committee looking into possible sites for a new...

An arena is more than just about hockey, says the committee looking into possible sites for a new building in downtown Edmonton. (Sun File/Brendon Dlouhy)

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

The man charged with the project is charged up.

During the time the Daryl Katz "circus" was going on, Lyle Best and his committee have been hard at work. And now that the focus is off the Oilers ownership situation, Best is here to inform us he's pumped about the possibilities with the status quo.

Best and committee were charged by Mayor Stephen Mandell with investigating the feasibility of Edmonton building a new arena, recommending where it would be, how it would be financed and who would pay for it.

"We're looking at a win, win, win situation for Edmonton," said Best.

"That's what we've all learned quickly. It's all about Edmonton and less and less about the Oilers and Northlands.

"I'm convinced we'll be looking at something which would solidify the NHL future here for a long time to come, bring bigger and better concerts and most important, bring some life into downtown, which is something that is not happening right now.

"When Edmonton decides to do something, they do it. I've become very comfortable that there's going to be a way to get this done," Best said.

"I'm also very optimistic that people will stop thinking about millionaire hockey players and owners when it comes to a new arena, and realize it's not about that at all.

"Quite the opposite. What we're dealing with here would generate taxes to pay to fill in all those potholes. People need to see the big picture and think outside the box."

Best was chosen to chair the group because as a Northlands board member and past-chair of the Oilers CopperJacket support group, he has a foot planted in both.

The committee includes Northlands chairman Jerry Bouma and VP Andrew Huntley. Cal Nichols and Pat LaForge represent the Oilers. Also on the committee are former alderman Patricia MacKenzie (inner city), former ATB president Bob Norman (finance) and Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president Greg Christenson (business).

They are to produce the report in November.

The majority of committee recently took a trip to Columbus and Kansas City to look at two downtown arena projects and see how they changed the faces of those two cities.

They also met with H.O.K., a leader in stadium design which will be sending people to Edmonton to look at various possibilities for a downtown site. H.O.K., the firm designing the new Yankee Stadium, had previously been hired by Northlands to look at a retrofit of Rexall Place.

"It would have cost a quarter billion and I don't think anybody thinks it's a very intelligent move," said Best. "It was not a very viable solution."

He said they have come back sold on a downtown development.

"Columbus and Kansas City were really driven as a complete urban development plan to revitalize downtown. It wasn't just about an arena. It was to make the entire area better. It has to be a 365-day , 24/7 thing, not just something around the time of the events.

"What we saw in Columbus was (that they built) the Nationwide Arena on a site where the Ohio State Prison stood since 1885.

"Columbus didn't raise taxes, they redirected taxes to an area which wasn't generating taxes.

"Businesses moved in to pay taxes where taxes were never paid before. There was spectacular investment in the area with lofts, condos, apartments, nightclubs and restaurants. It's been a spectacular success," Best said.

"In Kansas City, again the idea was to create tax revenue from an area which was generating absolutely (none).

"They don't have an NHL team yet, but they have 88 concert events this year.

"Both cities found ways to do all of this without going into taxpayers' pockets. And we have a huge advantage ... neither has an LRT."

Best says a new arena for the sake of a new arena doesn't make much financial sense by itself - even if there's a healthy debate about where you'd be left without one.

"I mean, do the math.

"Let's say it's $300 million. There's no way the revenue from hockey and concerts adds up to enough to service the debt.

"This can't just be about the Oilers or Northlands.

"That's the challenge from here. To see how creative Edmontonians can be."


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