Oilers owner pitches new arena to council

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz apologizes to city council as he makes his pitch for a new downtown arena and entertainment district.

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz apologized to city council Wednesday as he made his pitch for a new downtown arena and entertainment district.

Businessman Daryl Katz speaks at Wednesday's city council meeting. He bought the Oilers in 2008 for $200 million. ((CBC))

Katz started off by saying he was sorry for not making the process easier over the last few months.

Councillors have learned many of the details about the proposed project through the media, including an announcement last month that Katz was negotiating with the City of Hamilton in Ontario to take over an arena there.

Many saw that as a veiled threat because it could give Katz a place to move the Oilers if councillors prevented him from getting his way on the Edmonton arena.

On Wednesday, the billionaire businessman went on to reaffirm his promise of $100 million toward an arena and at least another $100 million into a surrounding entertainment district.

The proposed new arena and complex are estimated to cost $400 million to $450 million, with the balance of funding to come from the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

The arena would be owned by the city of Edmonton, Katz pledged.

And he said he is willing to sign a location agreement as part of a new lease for a downtown arena, which would keep the NHL team in Edmonton.

"It's about sustaining the National Hockey League and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton for the long term," Katz said. "The team is also a business, and like any business, it needs a sound financial base in order to be sustainable, which today it is not."

Rexall Place, the Oilers' current home, cost $77.7 million to build, after adjusting for inflation. Opened in 1974, the arena is the third-oldest venue in the NHL, though it hasn't served nearly as long as the storied former rinks in Boston, Montreal or Toronto, all of which hosted their teams for more than 65 years.

Grilled by councillors

Councillors grilled Katz at Wednesday's meeting about how much money, exactly, he expected the city to commit to the project.

They also asked whether the Oilers couldn't play in a revamped Rexall Place. Katz's executives rebuffed that idea, saying the team would not invest in, nor support, renovations there.

Many people in Edmonton have expressed opposition to a plan that would see public dollars go towards an arena that houses a privately owned NHL team. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver built their current NHL arenas without a handout from taxpayers.

Katz, for his part, said a new arena would showcase Edmonton's "capacity to be bold and to think big."

His aim is to move the Oilers to a new downtown facility once their lease expires at Rexall Place in 2014.

City councillors brought that goal one step closer, voting in favour of starting formal talks on the plan.