SUN Hockey Pool

Press-ing issues for new Edmonton arena

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

EDMONTON - This is when it starts to get exciting.

All the angst, the screeching and screaming from the against-everything vocal minority and the political dog-and pony-shows are in the rear-view mirror. Or, at least, that will be the case after the next election when the province finally puts up the missing $100 million for the new $450-million 18,400-seat new arena for North Central Alberta with construction projected to start in April next year.

Now the dream starts to develop and the transformation of, not only downtown Edmonton, but the entire Deadmonton image earned in the last couple decades begins to unfold, with expectations of the Oilers moving in with a Stanley Cup contending team in 2015-16.

In many ways, Monday was the official kickoff, with the announcement that the City of Edmonton and Katz Group have entered into an agreement with the Denver-based stadium and arena development company, ICON Venue Group, to oversee the design and construction of the new building.

"We should have the No. 1 team doing it, from what I can gather," said Mayor Stephen Mandell.

ICON works in partnership with arena management company AEG, which would likely take over the facility once it's built. ICON recent credits include the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh, the Prudential Centre in New Jersey, Jobing.com Arena Glendale and the Pepsi Centre in Denver.

The new Pittsburgh arena is the most likely model for the downtown rink and if ICON meets or beats that one, the next 40 years of sports and entertainment experiences in Edmonton will be excellent.

"This is probably the most experienced company in North America for this type of planning," said Mandel.

"We want to have a group of people that are the leading edge people in these areas and my understanding is ICON is, according to the people we've talked to.

Also expected to be lined up is 360 Architecture, the firm which designed the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, American Airlines Arena in Dallas and Safeco Field in Seattle.

While there's excitement in the naming of these firms to begin the design and development work on the new arena, the next year or so of building the blueprints and the footprint for the place should also be coupled with some concern.

You have no idea how many monumental mistakes have been made in the building of these places by so many highly touted firms in the past who, it seems, never take the trouble to let various user groups take a peek at the plans.

Like the new $563-million B.C. Place. They put a spectacular scoreboard in the place. But you can't see it from the second row of seats in the expensive suites.

Vancouver and Montreal, unbelievably, built new arenas with concourses way too tight to handle the traffic. In one spot on the 200 level in Montreal there are a couple of tight bottlenecks, where the concourse narrows down to about 15 feet.

The Saddledome in Calgary has so little space on the event level, the hosting of the world junior was severely compromised. And you know why Edmonton has been a concert capital? The Saddledome roof won't hold modern-day staging requirements. So Edmonton gets Ôem all.

The Metrodome in Minneapolis was a problem-plagued place. The roof collapsed in 2010. Roof collapsed in Hartford's arena, too.

Do you have any idea of how many arenas in North America forgot to build press boxes over the years?

It's in double figures!

Joe Louis in Detroit was one where the architects neglected to include a press box. It was built in the top row of seats where fans stand and block views. The HP Pavillion's press box in San Jose was an afterthought and was wedged in between the rafters. The so-called Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles had to carve a press box into the seats from about Row 10 to Row 20 at centre ice. Reunion Arena in Dallas was another. And about half the rinks in the World Hockey Association. Even Madison Square Garden counted in that category.

The Air Canada Centre in Toronto was originally supposed to be a basketball-only building with no press box planned. One had to be added to the blueprint.

"It's so narrow that you can be guaranteed to be bumped several times during a game by other beer-bellied or big-assed reporters," said Tim Wharnsby of cbc.ca.

A common mistake is a press box elevator that holds only six or eight, which makes for some crazy scenes with coaches and management from both teams and reporters on deadline, especially if there's also suite holders, etc..

In the Bell Centre in Montreal, of all places, they forgot about TV camera locations.

"They had to put them right in the middle of the lower bowl," said Brian Wilde of CTV. "They're in the seating area. They had to take out some of the seats to compensate. It's an odd design. Weird."

Edmonton currently has one of the most functional and well-positioned press boxes, if the most poorly appointed (and the 30th-place media work- and interview-room facilities) in the league. A lot of rinks have been built recently where the broadcast booths so far away from the ice that play-by-play guys can barely see the puck.

"There are a lot of poor vantage points. The Joe is a good vantage point but they forgot the press box. There's no room at all. There are poor vantage points in New Jersey, Dallas ... and don't get me started on Long Island," said TSN's Chris Cuthbert.

"In the Staples Centre press box I feel like I'm on Mars," said Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times.

The biggest mistake is cutting corners and building big, but basically blah, buildings like St. Louis and Boston.

If you aren't attempting to build a state-of-the-art building from the get-go, the regrets will last for decades. When you build a new stadium, you're making a statement about your city. I worry about that with this project.

Decide to not put in hand railings, extra dressing rooms, concourse TVs, escalators, elevators, etc. and easy-to-scrap items like international size ice surface option for the future, and you will regret it.

The City and Katz Group need to commit to the community to have some transparency and user-group input at various stages here.

You don't want to build the place and go "D'oh! Forgot to build the press box! D'oh! Can't see the scoreboard from the suites! D'oh! Roof can't hold concert staging! D'oh! Concourse can't support the crowd flow!"

But in the meantime, go ahead. It's time to start to get excited now.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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