Downtown going uptown?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

The last time the Edmonton media was summoned for a press availability regarding a new downtown arena, it was a dog-and-pony show with Gary Bettman.

The NHL president was there at the behest of the always absent Oilers' owner Daryl Katz to deliver a high, hard pitch for the building of a new downtown arena, sooner rather than later, with more pubic money than private.

Bettman's zinger: "There's no way a building can be built here without significant public investment."

Yesterday there was none of that.

And the silence suggested where there's a will there's a way and the new downtown arena is well on its way with that support either on the way or put out of the way till a later day.

Yesterday the media was gathered again. This time for "information, clarity and context."

NO KATZ TO BE SEEN

Katz was, as usual, nowhere to be seen, but in this case it was probably a good thing. Katz, as he proved in the late season "MacT isn't going anywhere" texting fiasco, doesn't have the media savvy to do the dance.

Oilers president Pat LaForge did a masterful job of getting Edmonton excited yesterday without revealing enough to bring out any real negative debate.

"Like a lot of Edmontonians, we are very excited about the prospect of a revitalized downtown and a new multi-use development that can make Edmonton the place to be, but we still have a lot of work ahead to make this vision a reality. In the meantime we want the public to know where things stand and what they can expect to hear in the months ahead," were words in the official release attributed to Katz.

In reality it was the confirmation of Graham Hicks's Sun Media scoop re: the Katz Group purchasing two parcels of land in downtown Edmonton, including the Baccarat Casino site.

"I didn't anticipate the need to be in front of you now," LaForge did admit, adding that there's a lot being said and they recognized the importance of now getting it out there.

But that said, he said it.

There were no trumpets and fanfare to accompany it.

Many people may even have missed it.

But it was there. Loud and clear.

"It is a project now."

Swirl that around in your mouth a few times.

"It's a project now, more than speculation. And it's underway.

"It contemplates much more than an arena. It contemplates a district which includes an arena. It also contemplates a district that contemplates things like hotels and theatre, a casino, a convention facility, those kinds of things that make a district a district," said LaForge evenly enough that you couldn't use exclamation marks.

When Katz performed his hostile takeover of the Oilers from the ownership group which saved the franchise, it was first and foremost about a new downtown arena and massive surrounding entertainment complex.

To me, yesterday spoke volumes in terms of telling the town Katz is not only going to make it happen, he's well down the road to making it a happening -- further down the road than he'd really care to admit right now for all sorts of political and financial reasons. Like the land acquisition.

"We need to cloak a bit. Why bid against ourselves?" admitted LaForge.

Officially anointed project spokesman as of yesterday, LaForge essentially admitted Katz is well on his way to buying up or securing options on a giant footprint of land downtown, much larger than most people have in their heads to house a hockey arena.

"These lands, among others are under consideration ... no final decisions have been made ... in the months ahead we hope to select a suitable site ... choosing the site has a lot to do with what goes on it and how big it might be ... We're not down to just one place ..."

That's maybe the deception.

"The Katz Group has secured options to purchase on a number of pieces of property. I'm not going to go through where they are. The media has pointed out the Baccarat site. That's one for sure," he said.

Is Katz essentially buying up downtown?

WHO OWN DA RINK?

If the man who pledged $100 million toward the project when he bought the Oilers is buying all the land, then who is going to own the rink?

That's the $450-million question.

Katz himself?

"The answer is maybe. The development model for this project is yet to be discovered. It's a high priority for the group to work on," said LaForge. "Through the first phase of it, I think purchasing is likely," he said of Katz, not the city or any other party purchasing the land. "Now it's impossible to speculate on how ownership might come together, but the development site we'll need to purchase. Who owns the arena, the city or the development corporation? That's yet to be done."

The Oilers lease at Rexall Place runs out in 2014 when the building turns 40. LaForge thinks 2014 "is doable."

Think big. Think really, really big.

"Daryl's view is that life is short and let's get on with it. Let's do it sooner rather than later. Daryl's organization thinks big."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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