Edmonton's downtown arena a step closer

Bruce Saville, a member of the group that sold the Oilers to Daryl Katz, spoke to council in...

Bruce Saville, a member of the group that sold the Oilers to Daryl Katz, spoke to council in support of the arena deal. (David Bloom, QMI Agency)

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:51 PM ET

EDMONTON - It was at the noon break of the great downtown arena hearing when former mayor Cec Purves caught the same elevator as Bruce Saville.

Purves was the early speaking star of Team Nay.

By the time the elevator had gone down two floors, Saville had blown up his whole argument.

“And who are you?” said Purves.

“A former owner of the hockey team,” said Saville.

Saville, the former senior investor of the Edmonton Investors Group, which kept the Oilers franchise in this city, would later speak and make the biggest impact of the public hearing.

“I know that if we still owned the team, we would have been here already, saying that we would not play in Northlands Coliseum beyond the current lease,” said Saville of the E.I.G.

“We would be saying we must have a new downtown arena and we would not be bringing $100 million to the table. We would be bringing zero dollars to the table!

“This is the second time I have appeared before this council. It is not something I like to do, or want to do, but sometimes the issue is too important to sit quietly by.”

Saville, before he took the shots that won the day for Team Yay, took on Northlands.

“Edmonton is on the verge, with the correct decision, of becoming a world-class urban metropolitan cosmopolitan city that simply no longer needs an agricultural society playing a major role.

“But this is not about Northlands. It is not about the Edmonton Oilers, Daryl Katz, The Katz Group, Rexall Sports or ice hockey. It is about making a statement about our collective vision of what Edmonton can be today, and in the future. This is a project that is vital to the future success of Northern Alberta.

“The art gallery, the new museum, the new arena. Wow, what a city!

“Do we want to be a world-class city? Do we want to be grouped with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver? Or do we want to be grouped with Regina, Hamilton, Windsor and Moncton?

“Any of you who do not see the wisdom of this project, any of you who vote against this development, shame on you. Shame on you!”

In questioning Saville was asked if he thought the Oilers would leave Edmonton if the city didn’t provide a new downtown arena.

“I would consider it a virtual certainty. Katz probably wouldn’t move the team. He’d try to sell them. But there’s no one here who would buy them.”

Saville was asked about helping billionaires.

“If Mr. Katz is a billionaire, and I don’t know whether he is, he didn’t make it off hockey,” he said.

In some ways this was like covering a game, a very, very long, drawn out, tedious game that probably was meaningless because the final outcome was quite likely been determined in most councillors’ minds.

If there was going to be any sway this day it would have required a one-sided avalanche of opposition.

That didn’t happen, although it looked like it would early, as seven of the first eight speakers were overwhelmingly against.

It was quite obviously a Team Nay home game as most of the crowd was cheering any speech which included a phrase like “no taxpayers’ money.” Indeed, a protest group entered the chambers after the lunch break chanting phrases like “Human need and not corporate greed” and “We are the 99%” and “We want democracy.”

Mayor Stephen Mandel said “That’s democracy,” as the room was cleared of protesters. “Are we back to normal here?”

Not sure what normal is at city hall.

While most of the speakers on both sides showed passion and spoke very well to the issues, at some moments it turned into a gong show.

“We have an arena that’s perfectly fine,” said Aleen Taylor.

“Maybe the hockey players should contribute,” said Elizabeth Cloutier.

The bottom line is that despite the crowd, despite the protesters, despite the passion from those against for their variety of reasons, the number of presenters  for Team Yay outnumbered those for Team Nay.

And on hearings like this, the ‘Yes’ speakers seldom out number the ‘No’ speakers.

Led by Bruce Saville, Monday was a big win for going ahead and taking Edmonton forward to the future with a new downtown arena and entertainment district.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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