Edmontonians tell council what they think about arena deal

Edmonton city councillors are expected to decide Wednesday whether to move ahead on the proposed downtown arena deal.

Hearing ends Tuesday after 11 hours; council to make decision Wednesday

Edmonton city councillors are expected to decide Wednesday whether to move ahead on the proposed downtown arena.

Councillors have much to think about after hearing from almost 90 people during Tuesday's public hearing that lasted until just after 8 p.m.

Opinion was split between presenters who criticized council for "writing cheques for a billionaire" and those in favour of the arena because they felt it would revitalize the downtown core. This, in turn, would attract young professionals and keep young people from moving away, they said.

Musician Andrew Usenik told council that he is always asked why he stays in Edmonton when he could follow his peers and continue his music career in a larger city. He said he stays because he sees the city's potential.

"We've got some of the best post-secondary institutions in North America and I don't think it's right that we have people coming here being educated and then wanting to get out and go somewhere more appealing to them," he said.

Usenik's sentiments were echoed by Ian O'Donnell and Jarret Campbell, who both said they've seen graduates leave Edmonton for cities with more appealing downtown areas like Vancouver and Calgary.

But others criticized council for a deal they believe hurts city taxpayers and unfairly benefits arena proponent and Oilers' owner Daryl Katz.

Former mayor among participants

"[You've] got a tenant who's already a billionaire. You're going to hand him a new gold mine," said former Edmonton mayor Cec Purves.

"In all my of years in business and sitting in this council I have never ever come across such a mind-numbing deal such as this," he added.

Joyce Pon also expressed her concerns to council.

"We do not want our hard-earned tax dollars used to fund a privately-owned hockey club that refuses to open its books to justify the need for our handout," she said.

"Edmonton is a great hockey market so there is no fear of the Oilers moving away anywhere. And therefore, why can't we do the due diligence and negotiate a better deal? Why are we being forced into a shotgun wedding so that our children will be forced into paying for it?"

Nita Jalkanen urged council to spend the money on paving back alleys, filling potholes, spraying mosquitos and clearing winter streets.

However, many business people spoke strongly in support of the arena.

"Now people will come in to see Edmonton," said entrepreneur John Trapp. "To see Edmonton, spend time downtown and actually enjoy the downtown environment."

Bruce Saville, a member of the Edmonton Investors Group, the organization that owned the Oilers before the team was purchased by Katz, called the arena an iconic structure that will revitalize the downtown.

He also took a swipe at Rexall Place operator Northlands, whose CEO has bitterly complained about being left out of arena talks.

"Edmonton is on the verge, with the correct decision here, of becoming a world class, urban, metropolitian, cosmopolitan city that simply no longer needs an agricultural society playing a major role," Saville said.

Under the proposed funding model, Katz would put $100 million towards the $450 million arena, with the cost spread over 30 years. The city would borrow $350 million dollars to allow the arena to go ahead.

The city would put $125 million into the project; $45 million would come from a downtown Community Revitalization Levy or CRL.

Another $125 million would come from a ticket tax. The source of the remaining $100 million in funding is still unknown. The city plans to approach the province for that money.

However, Premier Alison Redford has made no commitments.