Former Edmonton mayor pitches new sports venue for Coliseum

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is the latest in a chain of groups and individuals pitching to save the boarded-up Coliseum from the wrecking ball. 

Stephen Mandel urged city council to hold off on demolishing legacy building

The city's been working on a redevelopment plan for the land around the Coliseum since the building was closed in 2017. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is the latest in a chain of groups and individuals pitching to save the boarded-up Coliseum from the wrecking ball. 

Tuesday, Mandel joined a public hearing at city hall to speak on behalf of a group — he wouldn't yet name — promoting an alternative use for the building.

"We want to use it for sports, for kids sports — for basketball, volleyball, track and field and a variety of other sports. We think it can be redeveloped and be used effectively and help with the redevelopment of that entire area."

The public hearing included a set of bylaws that council is being asked to approve for a new plan to redevelop some 150 acres on the Exhibitions Lands and surrounding area into an urban community in proximity to transportation and nature.

The Exhibition Lands Planning Framework details mixed-use transit-oriented villages with diverse kinds of housing near LRT stations and incorporating the Expo Centre as an amenity. 

It does not include keeping the Coliseum. 

The former Edmonton mayor, Alberta cabinet minister and Alberta Party leader in the 2019 election, said the building could be a catalyst for the north side. 

"I believe we should preserve these buildings," Mandel said. "I think it's an important part of our history. We should try to preserve it."

Paul Sir with the Alberta Basketball Association also urged council to revisit the idea of reusing the Coliseum. 

He said athletic groups on a pitch to turn the building into a community-based sports venue with a 200-metre indoor track with spaces for basketball, volleyball, tennis courts and pickleball. 

It would not include hockey rinks, Sir added. 

He said the groups decided to look at the "great Coliseum building that still has a lot of life left in it and is the perfect facility to transform the area around and be part of this revitalization plan." 

Edmonton has a shortage of court space, Sir said. 

Many proposals

Several councillors expressed skepticism that the proposal wouldn't be different from ones in the past or economically feasible. 

It has debated many times whether to demolish or repurpose the building.  

A city report from 2017 showed an estimated cost between $15 and $25 million to tear it down. Maintaining the building, including security, costs the city about $1.5 million a year.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton asked Sir to expand on the need to use the space. 

"This council has heard over the last few years many proposals," Hamilton said. "How would this be different from perhaps what council has heard before?"

Sir said the sports are "robust" and popular among new Canadians, the Indigenous community and would be a draw for north Edmonton youth. 

He suggested the venue could host national championships, which would draw economic activity to Edmonton. 

Mandel said the group would be looking for three to four months to come up with a business plan.

"This can be a very, very special facility if you'll allow us to have the time to do it," Sir said. 

"What are you going to lose? 90 days, 120 days? You're not going to tear the bloody thing down within that time anyway." 

Stephen Mandel believes the Coliseum building can be used for community sports. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Council agreed to revisit the subject and reconvene the public hearing on Thursday.  

At that time, it will debate the full bylaw outlining the City's Exhibition Lands Planning Framework and redevelopment plans for surrounding neighbourhoods.

The plan includes the Northlands horse track and Borden Park and two new transit stations, one on 115th Avenue and another on 119th Avenue that would replace the existing Coliseum LRT station.



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