A bid by Edmonton Northlands to spend $770,000 on new seating for Rexall Place will be allowed to proceed, despite opposition from critics who argue the money would be wasted because a new arena project is already progressing.
City council, which by contract has the power to give final say over Northlands renewal proposals that exceed $750,000, heard from the non-profit group on Tuesday.
Although council decided not to intervene, councillors questioned the wisdom of spending more money on 8,000 new lower-level seats at Rexall Place when plans by Katz Group are underway for a new downtown arena.
Northlands president Richard Andersen argued that from past experiences working in San Diego for the Padres, he has learned that seating improvements were necessary for spectator safety.
'Bottoms literally come out'
"In these sort of seating environments, once they get to 15 years or so, you can run into an issue where the seat bottoms literally come out," Andersen said. "So as you're sitting in them, you fall out. I don't want to strike fear in anybody's hearts. It's not a prevalent problem, but it does happen."
The talks at City Hall on Tuesday grew more tense when they touched upon the downtown arena debate, with Andersen facing questions about why Northlands was not giving up all financial information that the city needs.
While council wants to move forward with its plan for a new downtown arena, that leaves the fate of Rexall up in the air. The city has called for detailed financial information from Northlands so that council can make an informed decision.
Mayor Stephen Mandel said it's clear that it's in the organization's financial interest to co-operate.
"We signed a note for them for $56 million," Mandel said. "They get that money from the city. They get money from the province. I think co-operation should be a keynote for them."
Councillor Jane Batty also weighed in on Northlands' refusal to fully open its books to the city's chief financial officer, saying she was "horrified" to hear that data would not be provided "in the spirit of full transparency."
Andersen responded by saying that the talks were drifting off topic.
"This morning's talks were supposed to be about replacing seats at Rexall Place, but they turned into a big spat over how co-operative — or not — Northlands is being in these downtown area discussions," he said.
"We have said consistently our business isn't for sale," he added.
Northlands has argued that it doesn't want to see the arena fall into disrepair, but a recent city report had recommended council carefully consider the timing of the proposed improvements.
The estimated costs for the new 18,500-seat downtown arena proposed by Katz Group is $450 million. Developers are seeking $100 million in provincial funding, which has so far been rejected by Premier Ed Stelmach, although he has said that help may be offered for related infrastructure.