Edmonton city council voted Tuesday in favour of rezoning the lands for the proposed downtown arena and entertainment district proposed by Oilers owner Daryl Katz.
"We appreciate council approving zoning today. It's a very important step in the process," Katz Group executive vice-president Bob Black said afterwards. "We are going to take some time to more fully assess all of the dialogue over the last couple of days before commenting further."
Approval of the zoning does not mean the arena is going ahead — it simply changes the permitted use of the land to accommodate this type of development.
City council is expecting more reports on the proposal in March after granting city staff permission on Monday to start talks with the Katz Group.
The vote followed a day-long statutory public hearing into the Katz Group's request to rezone land near the Baccarat Casino at 104th Ave. and 101st St. to make room for the arena.
Coun. Linda Sloan raised concerns during the hearing that the Katz Group hadn't supplied councillors with a detailed design plan. She also worried the city would give up control over the project by approving the rezoning.
"My concern is that this council is relinquishing for any subsequent council in that 20-year timeline, the ability to compel the applicant to come back to council," she said.
But that worry was dismissed by Coun. Brian Anderson.
"I don't agree with Coun. Sloan," he said. "I think she's fear-mongering."
Hotel companies interested in project
The project is generating plenty of interest from potential tenants, Katz Group representative Jim Low told council earlier in the day.
, for two hotels a little while ago and got really good interest in that, in fact, some of the hoteliers said 'Edmonton wasn't even on our radar screen prior to hearing about your project and now it is,'" Low said.
The project is proposed to include hotels, a casino, bars and restaurants.
Simon O'Byrne, a Stantec consultant working for the Katz Group, told council the arena could make downtown as lively as it was during Grey Cup weekend last November, when events drew thousands of people to Churchill Square.
"We want the same kind of vibrancy to happen throughout the year," O'Byrne said. "This project will help do that, and double or triple the level of activity everywhere in the downtown."
Councillors also heard from residents who live in a neighbourhood close to the proposed development.
"A project of this stature, maybe 50 or 60 years in the history of this city, and you guys are being asked in one day to put your stamp of approval and walk away," said Warren Champion from the Central McDougall Community League.
"I gotta say, that's really unacceptable, guys."
Diotte tweet inaccurate, councillor says
A minor skirmish arose during the meeting after one councillor spoke up about an inaccuracy in the information another councillor posted on his Twitter page.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Coun. Kerry Diotte tweeted about what he believed Coun. Karen Leibovici said about how a downtown arena could affect traffic before Oilers games.
"Coun. Leibovici concerned about crush of traffic in DT for 5:30-6 p.m. Oil game as people try to leave DT for day," Diotte wrote.
This prompted Leibovici to post a tweet to correct the record: "I said 7 p.m. not 530-6!"
Leibovici brought the issue up before council as a point of privilege.
"I would appreciate that if there is going to be reporting as to what I say....that the reporting is at least accurate," she said.
Diotte apologized to Leibovici, both verbally during the meeting and on his Twitter page, although he added that he wasn't trying to be malicious and defended his practice of tweeting during meetings.
Leibovici accepted his apology but said a discussion needs to take place about what is acceptable to post on Twitter when council is in session.