SUN Hockey Pool

Arena deal Katz's to screw up

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 PM ET

Just before the vote on the downtown arena project at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel summarized the situation: “I think we need to be clear we have given administration directions that, if they meet these obligations, we’ve got a deal,” he said.

But Mandel said more. And in there, somewhere, is the real, sad story.

In a city that on Thursday was awarded a $340-million downtown Royal Alberta Museum, to go with an $88-million Art Gallery of Alberta and a $112-million refurbishing of Commonwealth Stadium (with another $12 million, now before city council, to come for the long-overdue replacement of seats), the $450-million downtown arena and entertainment district project has been ugly and messy.

Mayor Mandel made that point.

“One of the things that’s been lost in this whole discussion is a place called Edmonton.

“This is an opportunity for Edmonton, not just Mr. Katz and his hockey team.

“I wish we’d talk about this more as a redevelopment of our downtown, a vision for our downtown and an opportunity to see Edmonton as a place that can be very special,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime way we can build something very special.”

Mandel said lost in the debate, too, was the fundamental need.

“What got lost in this whole process is that we do need a new arena, because you have a 37-year-old arena, which will be a 40-year-old arena which can’t be fixed because of the way it was built. That’s an important part of quality of life in cities in North America.”

Throughout the process of choosing the wording and tone of the motion, Mandel kept urging council to “keep it friendly — that’s the intent here.”

Daryl Katz has seldom kept anything friendly, which is a big reason this issue has been so ugly and messy.

It would be wonderful, now, if Katz, who has not shown any negotiating style other than hostile takeover/gun-to-the-head/implied-threat etc., could actually seize the moment and concede he has the structure for a more-than-decent deal here, and move forward.

When it comes to public perception, Katz has been his own worst enemy. This might be the Oiler owner’s last chance to ever end up being embraced by Edmonton as Good King Daryl.

If he doesn’t throw the carefully constructed, 17-point plan to negotiate a deal back at Mandel, then 9:30 p.m., April 7, 2011 could go down as a great moment in the city’s history.

The hitch could be the $125-million user fee/ticket tax that inspired Katz to fire out the leaked letter the other day — forcefully pointing out that he hasn’t agreed to any such deal.

Katz, one assumes, sees it as $125 million of his ticket money even though, like the 7% you pay in ticket tax now, it’s coming out of your pocket first.

But let’s score it that way.

That $125 million would have Katz, with his on/off/back-on-the-table-again $100-million contribution, essentially paying $225 million or, if you will, half of the $450-million total cost.

Seems more than fair, to get an arena — loaded with additional revenue sources from which to profit for the next 30 years — for half price.

Edmonton hasn’t exactly come out of this process looking like a progressive city which clearly can see the future and is ready to boldly embrace it.

If Edmonton was actually that city, we’d have been talking about building the new arena to be the absolute, most marvelous sports arena anywhere in the world, without cutting a single corner to compromise. If Edmonton were actually that city, we’d be talking about making it the most incredible building of them all, and creating a downtown district to be the envy of them all in the most unlikely of locales, because it would be worth every cent and more to enhance Edmonton’s image.

Mandel put together the motion which effectively dumps the puck into the Oiler owner’s end.

Let’s hope the Katz Group is able to finish better than his 30th-place hockey club.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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