Edmonton city council wants answers before waiving $48-million Northlands debt

The city will spend the next five months reassessing Northlands' massive redevelopment plan before it decides whether to sign off on the project, or waive the organization's $48-million existing debt.

City administration will reassess Northlands' redevelopment plan before August discussion

The outdoor festival space would be able to accommodate crowds of 30,000 to 140,000 people. (Supplied)

The city will spend the next five months reassessing Northlands' massive redevelopment plan before it decides whether to sign off on the project, or waive the organization's existing $48-million debt. 

Edmonton city council voted on a motion Tuesday to have administration further evaluate 11 aspects of Northlands' Vision 2020 plan. That report will be presented to an executive committee sometime in  August, and there will be an opportunity for public input at that time.

"There is a ton of work to do between now and August," Mayor Don Iveson said after the motion passed. 

Debt forgiveness key to Northlands' future, CEO says

Earlier Tuesday, Northlands asked the city to decide its future and waive its $48-million debt by Sept. 1.

CEO Tim Reid asked city council to commit to Northlands' $165-million plan to re-purpose its 160 acres of land, a move he said would keep the organization sustainable for years to come.

The 2020 vision includes re-purposing Rexall Place to include seven sheets of ice at a cost of $85 million. The horse racing track would be converted into a casino and outdoor festival site, at a cost of $45 million. A 5,000-seat concert and sport venue in Expo Centre's Hall D would come at a cost of $35 million.

A few years ago, the city loaned Northlands $48 million to build the Expo Centre. Northlands said it would not be able to repay that debt as revenue streams dry up from concerts and events moving to the new Rogers Place arena downtown.

"We were presenting them with a very challenging circumstance," Reid said. "We need to have an outcome on debt forgiveness because that creates the sustainability of our business into 2017."

Reid said the city must commit to a plan for the grounds by September, before the neighbourhood is affected by decreased business.

"I think we've all driven towards an outcome that was win, win, win, something that wouldn't compete with the downtown arena," Reid said. "We think the proposal … might be the best outcome the city could have."

'Parts may move forward, parts may not'

Coun. Mike Nickel said he's frustrated by the Sept. 1 deadline and wants to see other options from Northlands for paying off the debt. Events in the Expo Centre were supposed to generate income, he said.

On Tuesday morning, a motion was put forward that called for the city and Northlands to meet with stakeholders to further discuss 11 aspects of Northland's plan, before resuming discussions on the matter on Aug. 23. Council is expected to vote on that motion Tuesday afternoon.

Nickel said it's "highly unlikely" council will be able to explore all options by the September deadline.

"We're going to have to see the best way to move this model forward, because right now the appetite for me to forgive (48) million dollars is not very high in these economic conditions," Nickel said.

Mayor Don Iveson agreed the city has its work cut out for it this summer. He said a public hearing will also take place before council makes any further decisions.

"The motion today analyzes the pros and cons of what they proposed and also looks at alternatives, in terms of real estate development options around LRT on lands that maybe could have other purposes besides what they proposed," he said. "I think it's important for the city to look at all of those options and determine whether what Northlands has proposed is best for the city, or whether there's better use for those lands."

Iveson said a third option could emerge after more discussion this summer.

"Parts of it may move forward, parts of it may not," he said. "That will require the continued flexibility and creativity of Northlands to adapt to whatever the new realities may be.

"I don't think there's any preconceived notion that any one or all of these things would necessarily go ahead."


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