SUN Hockey Pool

Location, location, location ...

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

Put it between Jasper Avenue and 104th, and between 105th and 106th streets. And let Northlands run it.

That may not be spelled out specifically when Lyle Best and the committee to investigate the building of a new arena for Edmonton release their report to city council at 9:30 a.m. today, or at the 11 a.m. press conference or at the noon luncheon with the downtown business association.

But that's where it should be and who should run it.

The location is the recommendation made by at least one of the professional arena builders/downtown arena district developers. That's the location many of the committee members would suggest to the mayor if pressed beyond the boundaries of what they've been asked to report.

SURPRISE

The location might surprise some.

Speculation has put a new downtown arena for Edmonton near the CN Tower or further east in the corner between Jasper Avenue and 97th street.

But think about it.

There's all sorts of elbow room in every direction to expand with restaurants, bars, flats and even a Rexall Drug store or two on the west side of the downtown area. And more important than anything involved, to me, is that it would bridge the happening highrise area on the other side of 109th street and the downtown hotel, City Hall, Winspear, Convention Centre area with a vibrant area where people live and play. That's what building major sports and entertainment centres downtown are all about. They prevent city centre decay.

There's no question the arena must be built downtown or that Best and the group will stress that in the report.

Best, who will be returning from Barbados to release the report as soon as tomorrow, has already telegraphed that.

"I believe we have a unique opportunity in a unique time in the history of the city to be visionaries, leaders and builders," he said in a relatively recent conversation.

"We can create an economic engine, a cultural catalyst and an icon that can help define Edmonton.

"I am hopeful that when Edmontonians actually see the report they will see that with a little vision and perserverance, anything is possible. It seems every landmark we have was built with an air of controversy hanging over it. Yet they all got done. Commonwealth Stadium. Rexall Place. The art galleries,museums, concert halls, City Hall and even West Edmonton Mall. Can anyone imagine our city without these today?

"An arena is more than just a hockey rink, athough those five Stanley Cup banners ain't bad. But think of the things we've seen in Rexall Place over the years. And imagine what the new building will bring. It would certainly bring the stature of the city up immeasurably in the world's eyes.

"It's a perfect time to reinvest in Edmonton, and building a downtown arena district would be a very good start."

NORTHLANDS IN PICTURE?

As for Northlands running the arena, that may seem like a large leap considering some of the history of them hugging onto the Northland Coliseum to the point where Edmonton almost lost the Oilers.

Northlands also has a history of essentially killing the sensational downtown Klondike Days scene in the early days because it was costing them people at the fairgrounds. But their recent record is much better and new president Jerry Bouma seems to be an uptown sort of guy who appears to like the idea of Northlands getting the fertilizer off their boots.

That they've taken over the Edmonton Grand Prix IndyCar race, I believe, makes the bridge to Northlands taking over the running of a new downtown building.

While there are some early warning signs that Northlands is going to have to make major changes in the way they operate to be able to run a successful auto race - they are not off to a good start - if they prove with the auto race that they are no longer a bunch of horse race people with the blinkers on, then I think they're the best bets to fast-forward to a new future.

It's great that soon-to-be-new-Oilers-owner Daryl Katz has promised to donate $100 million to the likely $500 million project. But it would be dead wrong that his $100 million would give him the rights to effectively own and run the thing.

Obviously owning the hockey team and the seed money would give Katz a big say in it all.

But it would be folly not to consider an organization which runs the third-busiest building in Canada, the fifth in North America and the 12th overall in the world as potential operators. But there's more to it than that.

Northlands is a not-for-profit organization which is eligible for government money. Private business is not. That's why Ric Forest, Bruce Saville and the auto race group transferred ownership of the event to Northlands.

Another thing that Edmonton doesn't need is a downtown arena battling against the existing 118th Avenue arena for events.

I heard a whisper the other day I think is just brilliant - that Northlands, if they took over the downtown arena, would consider taking the roof off Rexall Place, removing the upper-deck seats and putting a new roof on to create an 8,000-seat second rink, which would be perfect for so many events which don't really fit in the big building.

Sounds like a plan to me.


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