Edmonton daring to be great again

The Edmonton city skyline, Thursday, October 20, 2011. Edmonton city council voted 10-3 to proceed...

The Edmonton city skyline, Thursday, October 20, 2011. Edmonton city council voted 10-3 to proceed with a $450 million downtown arena and entertainment district. TOM BRAID/QMI AGENCY, file

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

EDMONTON - It was a moment which was truly historic.

The late great city Edmonton has dared to be great again.

Back in 1978, when Edmonton welcomed the world, for the first time, to a beautiful new Commonwealth Stadium and a beautiful new Northlands Coliseum, and the Eskimos were about to win five Grey Cups in a row and the Oilers five Stanley Cups over seven years.

Edmonton city council decided to go back to being that kind of city again Wednesday, with a 10-3 vote to proceed with a $450 million downtown arena and entertainment district.

And the timing couldn't be better, as there's every evidence the two teams are about to return from Edmonton's dark ages, too.

"For some time our councils said 'no' too easily," said Mayor Stephen Mandel outside chambers when the decision to go forward to the future was made.

"This council showed to have great vision.

"It's easy to say no. It's always easy to say no. I think it's courageous for council to say yes. There is no risk in saying no. But there's a risk of not building a great city.

"Over the years I think people have slipped and doubted things too easily. I think this is a very important decision. And I'm hoping this will be a watershed moment for our downtown and for our city."

While there's still the missing $100 million from the province to complete the deal, Mandel said he is "100% confident" it will be forthcoming. "We just have to get creative."

Five years from now, predicted Mandel, it'll be hard to find anybody who won't be happy with the decision.

"In five years when people look back, this will be a better city," he said.

And nobody, he said, will remember who voted against it.

For the record, they were Linda Sloan, Kerry Diotte and Don Iverson.

Not long after the mayor made his statements, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who only two weeks ago brought the mayor and the Oilers' owner to New York to get an off-the-rails deal back on the rails, offered his congratulations to all.

"I am thrilled for the City of Edmonton and I want to congratulate and thank Mayor Mandel and Daryl Katz for their hard work and commitment. The future of the Oilers couldn't be brighter." Bettman gets booed in most NHL cities. But not in this one. He came through for Edmonton yet again.

But the most unlikely of assists came this day from Dr. No. The infamous Tony Catarina, the against-everything councillor who improved the deal with some non-deal killing amendments, including a guarantee from Katz to put $30 million of the $100 million he's promised into the downtown development prior to construction of the arena.

"As far as I'm concerned now, he's shown that he's serious," says Caterina.

"He's committed the $30 million to that -- and that's worth more to me than the $100 million over thirty five years."

"It's reasonable," he said of the deal.

"When people are upset on both sides, it means it's probably a pretty good deal."

Caterina says Katz's approach damn near derailed the deal. He said the Katz Group handled this "awfully bad," adding "I think that had a lot to do with where we were up to this moment."

In the end, Katz came in for praise.

"Thank goodness he lives here. Thank goodness he owns the Oilers," said Coun. Bryan Anderson.

"Mr. Katz has a commitment to this city -- more than people realize," said Mandel. "Mr. Katz has invested a lot, probably a lot more than any other owner.

"I think this is a good deal. Could it be better? Probably. Could it be worse? Way worse."

Coun. Karen Leibovici made the one point lost on so much of the populace.

"We have held true to our promise that there is to be no increase to taxes."

But we'll give the last word to Coun. Kim Krushell

"It's time to tell the Chris Prongers of the world that Edmonton isn't just a city with good people "¦ it's truly a city of vision."

It is now.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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