Hockey drive-in and beer garden planned for downtown Edmonton

Hockey fans in Edmonton may be watching NHL playoff games at an outdoor venue near Rogers Place while enjoying a brew or two.

Oilers Entertainment Group setting up outdoor venue near Rogers Place

The Oilers Entertainment Group is preparing to open an outdoor FanFest zone by Aug. 1 to screen games during the NHL playoffs. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Update: Oilers Entertainment Group spokesperson Tim Shipton said on Thursday, July 23, that the organization was no longer moving ahead with this original plan but confirmed OEG was working on a strategy on how to involve fans safely.

Hockey fans in Edmonton may be watching NHL playoff games while enjoying a brew or two at an outdoor venue near Rogers Place.

The Oilers Entertainment Group plans to open a drive-in and outdoor venue, which would include a beer garden or tent, on the grounds of the former Baccarat Casino at the corner of 104th Avenue and 101st Street.

Tim Shipton, a spokesperson for the OEG, said they are working with the City of Edmonton's civic events branch to set up a physically-distanced Oilers FanFest zone. 

The plan is to launch the venue Aug. 1 and screen evening and weekend games through to the Stanley Cup finals, Shipton said. 

Shipton estimates they'll show about 80 games but if the FanFest zone is successful and there's more demand, the OEG will open the venue for more games.

Social distancing is hard enough to do when you're sober.- Coun. Scott McKeen

The idea of social gatherings during NHL games isn't an automatic selling point for Coun. Scott McKeen. 

"I know that we all need something, to break our monotony and give us something to be delighted by," McKeen said in an interview Tuesday. 

McKeen, however, is wary about the ability for fans to celebrate safely. 

"Social distancing is hard enough to do when you're sober," he said. "And you know — good luck when people have had a few pops and are also then in celebration when their team has scored a goal and won." 

Still, McKeen recognizes that people are excited for the NHL to start up again and hopes the hub city vibe will help the Oilers make it to the playoffs. 

"If there's some injection of cash into the community and those guys run their beer garden well and the bars are really quite disciplined in restricting the numbers and keeping people from high-fiving and hugging, then it'll all be good," McKeen told CBC News.

"But there'll be no joy in Mudville if COVID-19 increases."

A spokesperson for the City of Edmonton, Karen McDonnell, said the OEG will have to get the appropriate permits and business licensing to host any fan activities. 

The OEG plan must also fall within current guidelines and be approved by Alberta Health Services, the Edmonton Police Service and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, McDonnell noted. 

Shipton said the OEG is working with AHS to finalize a concept for the outdoor venue and receive approval for the plan. 
Crews lay down wooden flooring at the corner of 104th Avenue and 101st Street on the site of the former Baccarat Casino in downtown Edmonton. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, said as with any outdoor event, the organizers will be required to follow guidelines set out by the chief medical officer of health.

"This guidance is intended to protect the public and limit the spread of COVID-19," McMillan wrote in an email. 

The OEG continues to create a bubble around Rogers Place for NHL players and this week erected a fence around the building.