The Winter Garden is part of the Katz Group's design to build a commercial and residential development around a new downtown arena. ((Katz Group))

Edmonton city councillors have expressed surprise over the vision for a downtown revitalization wrapped around a publicly-funded arena, unveiled Tuesday by an executive with the Katz Group.

Speaking to a meeting of the Building Owners and Managers Association, Bob Black, a vice-president with Katz Group, called the plan a "once-in-a-generation opportunity."

The plan sees the city paying for and owning a new arena, while Black's company and its partners would invest in surrounding properties such as hotels, student residences and other commercial development that could total as much as $1 billion. Black said property taxes from the new development would eventually pay the city's costs on the arena.

Mayor Stephen Mandel said he knew nothing of the proposal, but was surprised by the suggestion the city would finance the arena.

"Well the city won't," said Mandel. "The city will do what the city believes is best for the city and we'll work with the Katz Group to come up with a solution that's best for everybody."

Coun. Kim Krushell said she learned of the proposal from the media and expects a lot of feedback.

"I don't have any details. All I know is that he's asking ...  'can we borrow $400 million using your borrowing capacity?'" said Krushell. "And the question will be, 'does this make sense?'"

"Certainly, I'll hear from citizens. But I mean, there's a lot of citizens out there who aren't too excited about putting any dollars in."

The Katz Group wants to have the arena ready for the 2014 NHL season, which means construction would have to begin by January 2012.