Edmonton residents near Rogers Place look for new deal from Oilers for community benefits

People from communities around Rogers Place are fighting back against what they are calling a weak community benefits agreement and they want a new deal from the OIlers.

'We want a binding agreement' say advisory group members, who dismiss meetings so far as fruitless

A view of Rogers Place from Boyle Street Community Services. (CBC)

People from communities around Edmonton's new downtown arena Rogers Place are fighting back against what they are calling a weak community benefits agreement, and they're demanding a new deal from the Oilers.

"There's a movement beginning, to say we want a binding agreement," said Mike Van Boom, who sat on the community benefit committee, which included other community members, the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) and city staff for the last year.

He said communities want a firm commitment from the OEG to provide things like affordable housing and living wages for employees. Those things are common in community benefit agreements in other cities, he said.

But Julian Daly, executive director of Boyle Street Community Services, thinks the opportunity has passed. He took part in the community benefit committee in the early days.

Like Van Boom, he isn't happy with the process and calls the agreement a lost opportunity. But he said the time has likely passed to make a deal.

Julian Daly, executive director of Boyle Street Community Services, says it's probably too late to strike a new community benefit deal with the Oilers Entertainment Group now that the arena is nearly finished. (CBC)
"There was a time when I think there was leverage and an opportunity to get a binding agreement with the developers, but the arena is built now," Daly said. "It's behind us, you can see it. It's done. I can't see why anyone would come to the table now to make a binding agreement at this stage.

"I'm not saying it's impossible. It would be great if they did. But I can't see why they would and I don't imagine it will happen."

The existing community benefits part of the arena master agreement, which council passed in January 2013, makes up one page of a 34-page document, and was drafted without community input.

There are no firm targets for the number of jobs that will be created. The Oilers only commit to making "best efforts to encourage job training and employment programs targeted at low-income and high-needs residents of downtown Edmonton communities" during construction and operation.

There is also no mention of any other material benefits for specific communities.

Community feedback not registered at committee meetings

The role of an arena benefits advisory committee, made up of community leagues and social agencies, takes up half the page.

Under the original terms, the committee was supposed to meet "at least four times a year." In fact, the committee met twice in 2013, twice in 2014, three times in 2015 and three times this year.

The meetings were not public but the minutes were supposed to be "publicly available." The minutes were not posted online.

It took three days for the city to send the minutes when CBC News requested them earlier this month.

The minutes were supposed to be supplied publicly in lieu of allowing the public into the meetings. But Van Boom said they don't paint a true picture of what happened, because they don't document the concerns raised by community stakeholders.

"Different community leagues and stakeholders will bring ideas, questions, concerns. None of those things are reflected in the minutes," Van Boom said. "None of them are recorded, there's no follow-up."

Inner-city residents hired at Rogers Place

The Oilers say 17 people from high-needs communities were employed during the arena construction: three from the Bissell Centre, seven from the Water Wings program offered by Boyle Street Community Services, six from the Centre High pre-employment program, and one from the registered apprenticeship program.

Another five people from Boyle Street Community Services were employed in the adjacent construction of the Ice District.

A job fair in June set up for 32 agencies resulted in another 17 people getting part-time jobs at Rogers Place.

The OEG says 175 people from inner-city communities were hired for food and beverage services during events at Rogers Place.

Van Boom has joined residents from Boyle Street and Cromdale communities in criticizing those benefits. They say the jobs are largely paid at part-time minimum wages, and there were no goals set about how many jobs would be created.

A group of residents, including Van Boom, plan to ask city council's executive committee to help produce a new binding community benefit agreement with the Oilers at a meeting on Aug. 30.