SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers target 2014 for new arena

President and CEO of the Edmonton Oilers Patrick LaForge speaks to the media about the construction...

President and CEO of the Edmonton Oilers Patrick LaForge speaks to the media about the construction of a new arena. (Jason Franson/SUN MEDIA)

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

EDMONTON — Anyone who has ever been to the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, can’t help but be impressed, even with the odd unexplained bang or rattle now and then.

So it make sense the proposed new facility for the Edmonton Oilers will be similar to the one used by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be hosted by those with a recent arena project and the development neighbourhoods,” said Oilers president and CEO Patrick LaForge. “I really like the one in Columbus. We’ve looked at many others, such as Dallas and Los Angeles.

“I think that the latest thing, every time there is a different evolution of these new arenas, it always includes a multi-use district that people feel comfortable living, playing and being entertained in.”

Nationwide Arena opened in 2000. It seats over 18,000 for hockey and also features a second practice rink in the facility. The Arena District, where it’s located, is also home to a number of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and a movie theatre.

Such is a similar vision for Edmonton’s new arena district.

“From my point of view, and the project’s point of view, it’s about Edmonton and developing a part of a key area of our city in the downtown core,” said LaForge. “It’s an area that needs some refurbishing and redeveloping.

“It should be that cities want to grow, achieve some level of greatness and be attractive to visitors, tourist and workers in all sizes and forms. It’s important where you go to work every day.”

In Columbus, the arena was built on the former Ohio State Penitentiary site, which operated from 1834 to 1983. Over 300 prisoners were executed by hanging and in the electric chair, and a fire in 1930 killed 322 inmates who were locked in their cells.

One of the penitentiary’s most famous inmates was Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, then after nearly 10 years in the facility had the sentence overturned.

Sheppard is believed to be the inspiration for the Dr. Richard Kimble character in the Fugitive TV series and subsequent movies.

The arena itself sits on the site of the old prison parking lot, but some fans and employees of the building claim to have encountered paranormal activities.

In Edmonton, the Katz Group confirmed it has reached an agreement to purchase land in the downtown area, the Baccarat Casino site and the block west of the Bell Tower and south of 104 Ave.

The Oilers current lease with Northlands for the use of Rexall Place expires in 2014, giving the club a target date for moving into their new rink.

“We believe it’s doable,” LaForge said. “We’ve talked to others who have built arenas and developed sites and the timeline is doable.”

In Columbus, the State Penitentiary sat vacant for over a decade and attracted a number of visitors as it became known as the Haunted Prison for Halloween festivities in part due to an inmate riot that took place on Oct. 31, 1952.

One of the most appealing features of the Nationwide Arena for the Oilers is the separate practice facility. On occasion, the Oilers have to practice away from Rexall Place if a concert or event is taking place in the building.

“This is going to be one of those places where you will have 200 nights of entertainment,” LaForge said. “With build-up and set-up you can’t practice on the main ice, you have to practice on the associated ice. The practice ice, in my mind, can also be part of local minor hockey service program. There is always a shortage of ice for minor, recreational hockey and ringette. Then it can also be used as an entertaining facility when we’re not using the ice.

“We certainly contemplate having the practice facility as part of the site.”


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