Council approves downtown arena deal

Edmonton's new downtown arena moved much closer to becoming a reality Wednesday after city council voted 10-3 in favour of a deal with Oilers owner Daryl Katz.

Edmonton's new downtown arena moved much closer to becoming a reality Wednesday after city council approved a financial deal with Oilers owner and project proponent Daryl Katz , which had some last minute amendments from Coun. Tony Caterina.

The motion passed by a 10 to 3 margin; Councillors Kerry Diotte, Linda Sloan and Don Iveson cast the dissenting votes.

"This project will be a catalyst. It will change things," Mayor Stephen Mandel told council. "It will begin to shift downtown and I hope that over the next little while we will see a lot more construction."

The vote came after Caterina introduced a motion that featured a number of amendments to the financial framework reached in New York City earlier this month between Katz, Mandel and city officials.

One of the amendments would have Katz immediately pay $30 million of the additional $100 million to spur development around the arena.

Caterina said he felt better about the deal now that the amendments are in place.

"I'm comfortable that this is a much fairer deal than what was brought back from New York," he said. "I'm more comfortable that it is equitable and it's reasonable ... if there are people upset on both sides that actually means that this is probably a pretty good deal.

The Katz Group sent out news release late Wednesday afternoon expressing appreciation for council's "strong vote of support" as well as relaying thanks to those who participated in Tuesday's public hearing.

"We will work with city administration to understand the implications of the new elements of the deal introduced in today's motions in the context of the agreements that need to be completed by month-end," Katz Group Executive Vice-President John Karvellas said in the release.

City could make better deal, Iveson says

Iveson said he supports the arena but cannot support the funding framework in its current incarnation. He said the city should go back and make a better deal. 

"This deal ... flows from our weak negotiating position, weakened by the fear of losing the team. A fear, I think, is irrational and a bluff I might call," he said.

He also called on the Oilers to open up their books and allow negotiations to occur in a transparent environment.

"Offer a real and transparent business case as justification," he said. "Instead, we're simply told over and over again that the Oilers won't be sustainable without this specific deal. This remains an unsubstantiated claim without hard evidence to support it."

Diotte wants Katz to pay his $100 million in full at the start of the project, instead of paying it through installments over the 30-year life of the agreement. He also reminded council that the province has not agreed to close the $100 million funding gap. 

"They've turned us down flat," he said. "They've done it several times. So we're breaking our own word on this by proceeding anyway without the money.

"And we agreed that this deal would not go ahead unless we got the provincial money. Now we're going ahead with it. I think that's irresponsible."

Diotte was also alarmed by information from administration that the city would actually have to spend as much as $305 million which includes infrastructure, land and interest on the debt.

Sloan spoke out against the lack of clarity about much money the city needs to spend. She is also concerned that the city hasn't sought enough collateral from Katz to cover the losses if he defaults on the $100 million.

"What impact this deal has on current capital budgets or future is unknown," Sloan said.

"The lack of analysis and publication of this corresponding impact, in my mind, constitutes at the very least a breach of trust and at worst, an abdication of our elected respsonsibility."

A 'watershed moment' for city: Mandel

Now that the framework has been approved, city lawyers will now start work on the master agreement. Council also approved $30 million to start the design work.

Mandel called the arena vote an important decision for the city.

"Over the years, I think that people have slipped and said no to things too easily," Mandel said afterwards.

"And so, I think this is a very important decision, and at the end of the day, I'm hoping that this will be a watershed moment for downtown and for our city."

Under the framework, the building will have a maximum price of $450 million. Katz is contributing $100 million. Another $125 million will be raised by a ticket tax. The Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) and parking revenues will provide another $125 million.

Katz will pay $100 million to spark development around the arena, with $30 million being paid up front.

The city has approached the federal and provincial governments for the remaining $100 million but so far there is no indication the money will come through.