SUN Hockey Pool

Plugging an Oiler leak

CLARA HO, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

City councillors were perplexed Tuesday to hear that Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz is exploring a deal to run Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.

The move comes as the billionaire's company, Katz Group, is in the middle of stalled talks for a new arena and entertainment district in downtown Edmonton.

"I'm baffled, quite frankly," Coun. Ben Henderson told CTV Edmonton.

Early in the day, Coun. Jane Batty had expressed concerns about what the meeting meant for the Oilers' future.

"The Oilers are a great asset to the city and they're certainly loved and well-respected, and I'd be very sorry to see them move if that's what he's looking at doing," she said.

Coun. Karen Leibovici speculated that it was an agreement possibly involving the Oilers' farm team or a business deal and nothing to get excited about.

"This is perhaps ... where he's looking at expanding business operations in the sports and entertainment sector," she said.

But confusion reigned. Late Tuesday, Oilers president Patrick LaForge spoke to reporters at Hamilton's airport and assured them that this is strictly a business decision that doesn't affect the Edmonton hockey club.

LaForge said he and representatives from global entertainment group AEG met with Hamilton city council Tuesday to request a "non-binding memorandum of understanding" for an option to lease and operate a number of sports facilities for a period of time.

Those facilities include the Copps Coliseum hockey arena and the yet-to-be-built Pan Am sports stadium, the future home of the Tiger-Cats football team. The agreement is not set in stone, LaForge added.

While he agreed that this meeting was "optically not perfect," LaForge said the Oilers are not going anywhere.

"This is not about the NHL, this is not about the Oilers relocating, this is not about Edmonton," he said. "It is purely a business strategy."

LaForge said this business opportunity gives the Katz Group a chance to grow as a sports and entertainment development company, adding Hamilton "might be one of those markets that could work well for our first venture."

LaForge said they needed to jump on this opportunity right away before it slipped into a competitor's hands.

The Katz Group first unveiled its Edmonton plans in February, touting a new $1.5-billion project that included a new arena, hotels, offices and restaurants to be built on land currently occupied by the Baccarat Casino.

The group said it wanted the city to borrow $400 million to pay for the arena and recoup the costs through tax revenues from surrounding developments. Katz himself had pledged $100 million towards the development.

A public hearing on the group's zoning application was scheduled for June 28 but was postponed after questions around the financing of the project were "distracting" from the zoning application, said Katz Group vice-president Bob Black.

The company has now been invited to present its plans to city council on July 21.


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