This month saw the culmination of many years of back and forth negotiations, consultations and discussion regarding the Downtown Arena Project. With the majority of funding in place and construction only a few weeks away, we thought we would try to chronicle DECL’s involvement with the arena file. DECL has been involved in the downtown arena discussions and consultation almost since the idea was first floated.
A quick timeline and synopsis of our involvement below:
- March 2010 – Presentation of the Arena Entertainment District (AED) concepts to the DECL membership at our Annual General Meeting by Janet Riopel, consultant for the Katz Group. This was many residents’ first time seeing the concepts and drew a large crowd interested in the topic.
- May 2010 – First formal feedback from DECL to the City of Edmonton regarding the arena rezoning proposal and general concept. Our subsequent press release almost upstaged Katz Group’s initial open house at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) with our media attention on the issue featured in a front-page story in the Edmonton Journal entitled, “Downtown Residents Have Concerns.” This was more than enough to convince people our voice counted and residents’ perspective deserved to be heard.
- July 2010 – After five years of involvement, the new Capital City Downtown Plan (CCDP) is passed by Council with the exception of the zoning regulations. The 10-year plan includes references to the Arena Entertainment District (AED) and stricter urban design guidelines, as well as catalyst projects named for the downtown that have yet to be funded. This includes such projects as the entire Jasper Avenue New Vision, new Warehouse Campus Area parks, and sewer upgrades.
- December 2010 – After a six month delay which includes many consultation sessions between DECL and downtown planners, the new downtown zoning is passed with our support. New changes include additional height in certain areas (but no increase in density or FAR), greater separation distances between towers, and zero parking requirements for new developments in the Warehouse Campus Area. There is also significant discussion on how the proposed AED project might be incorporated into the downtown.
- Winter 2010 – Continuation of informal discussions with the Katz Group regarding our concerns.
- January 2011 – Provided ‘conditional support’ for the AED rezoning. Some notable concerns included the consultation process (or lack there-of) for stakeholders as the project progresses, attention to the public realm, and parking issues particularly for residents north of the project in Central McDougall. There was also some ambiguity about the disposal of a Municipal Reserve (MR) parcel on the site of the proposed arena that was originally intended to be a community park. We wanted to ensure its disposal was used to cover the purchase of land or development of our Scott Brothers park property on the NW corner of 105 Street and 102 Avenue.
- April 2011 – Attended City of Edmonton ‘stakeholder’ consultation and provided formal feedback. Also attended first ‘community benefits’ meeting with six other affected community leagues and social agencies to discuss issues and provide wish list of desired outcomes for the arena project.
- Summer 2011 – Provided comment and feedback via media requests regarding on-going arena debates at Council and otherwise, getting DECL’s opinion and view on the issue out there as much as people would hear it, including regular discussion of the topic on such online avenues as Connect 2 Edmonton, Facebook, and Twitter.
- August 2011 – Supported the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) as part of the funding deal for the arena. Given the information we had, the CRL is poised to be a real game-changer for downtown concerning the funding it could provide for catalyst projects named in the CCDP.
- October 2011 – Spoke at the Public Hearing regarding the proposed funding formula, and support for the CRL specifically. Emphasized the necessity of good urban design ‘best practices’ in the AED, and continued questioning the necessity of the ‘Winter Garden’ pedway.
- March 2012 – Attended second ‘community benefits’ meeting with the City. Further discussion on issues and priorities for residents which include desire for good urban design, new street parking regulations, a clean and safe district, and community rink.
- May 2012 – Presentation by Rick Daviss, Executive Director for the Downtown Arena Project, to our membership at our AGM. Latest renderings were revealed, questions and discussion from our members recorded for consideration by DECL.
- June 2012 – Letter to the City of Edmonton reminding Council of some of our concerns regarding street interaction on 104 Avenue. We continue to voice our cautious optimism that this project could be of benefit to the downtown if designed and integrated well.
- August 2012 – Letter of support to City Council for the CRL and arena project in general. The DECL board is of the opinion that the arena project and CRL is something most of Council should support.
- October 2012 – After City Council decides to break off negotiations with the Katz Group, we provide a letter to Council outlining our grave concerns about lack of Capital Budget allocated from 2012-15 to downtown projects and that they hang in the balance should the deal nor the CRL materialize.
- Winter 2012 – Continued informal discussions with City planners and Katz Group representatives as new designs for the arena and district are unveiled.
- April 2013 – Letter to City Council in support of the proposed CRL project phasing. This will see our proposed ‘Scott Brothers’ community park be built in initial phase of the CRL funding.
- Summer 2013 – Discussions with Sustainable Planning regarding CRL phasing, specifically $2m for our community park.
- September 2013 – Email of support to City Council in regards to the CRL bylaw.
- November 2013 – Community benefits presentations to community leagues, including presentations from the arena architects and city staff. Discussion of the Terms of Reference for the formation of the Downtown Arena Advisory Committee are also presented.
- February 2014 – DECL’s Development Committee Chair, Ian O’Donnell, is invited to join Mayor Don Iveson and Oilers owner Daryl Katz to an announcement at City Hall revealing the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) of $480m for the arena has been met and construction will begin in March.
- February 2014 – A reminder letter has been sent to the City about transparency and interaction at grade on 104 Avenue for the arena.
This development issue is one of the most complex DECL has ever been tasked to be involved in. From our initial requests to have our concerns (and the concerns of downtown residents) heard, to being invited to speak in the recent GMP announcement, we have come to realize the special role community leagues and residents voices can have. It has always been our goal to try to ‘bridge’ the gap of understanding and cooperation between various groups and opinions by embracing dialogue and discussion.
In addition to trying to build trust by providing constructive feedback, we have attempted to educated the various stakeholders on the benefits of a vibrant downtown. There are certain principals and urban planning ‘best-practices’ that we have emphasized should be considered in the design of the AED. Some of our concerns have been heard and changes or revisions made which will be reflected in a successful implementation because of our involvement in the process.
The DECL board, many of our members, and downtown residents at-large have come to realize the special opportunity we have here to fill a hole in our downtown and provide a catalyst for further growth. The process to get to this point has not been perfect by any means, we’ve done what we can as a volunteer organization to represent the interests of our membership and residents as accurately as possible. Our priority has always been to look at the development or rezoning applications at hand and provide feedback to what is being proposed. Good urban design, attention to the pedestrian realm at grade, encouraging street-facing retail and other activity, use of high-quality finishing materials, inclusion of amenity spaces, and other urban issues have been most of our focus. But when a ‘deal’ that has such huge potential benefits for our downtown and the City as a whole is presented, we felt we had to speak in favour.
Our downtown, and our city’s core in general, have been neglected for years; starved of capital funding for the necessary projects that will encourage people to live or employers to locate downtown. It is truly the ‘heart’ of our city. It has been apparent throughout this process that the only mechanism for infrastructure funding was through the CRL. The only way to get the CRL is through a project like the arena that most of Council could support and wanted to see our City have. You do not have one without the other – this was the opportunity to bring much-needed private and public investment to our downtown.
Hopefully this posts gives members of DECL and citizens of Edmonton as glimpse into how the arena project consultation went for us. We hope you can appreciate the time and attention that went to this issue, the outcome of which remains to be seen. If good urban design is adhered to, the risk of building such a large project in our downtown will be outweighed by its successful execution.
Note – We will be posting links to the various letter that were sent to the City or Council in the near future.