Edmonton

Fate of Northlands Coliseum and the land it sits on up for debate this year

One year after Northlands Coliseum closed for good, plans for the property remain a mystery.

Demolition is likely but residents, city officials unsure of what property should be used for

A demolition report will go to the city's urban planning committee in January. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

One year after Northlands Coliseum closed for good, plans for the property remain a mystery.

Built in 1974, the former home of the Oilers shut its doors on Jan. 1, 2018, the land reverting back to the city.

Since then, there have been proposals to renovate the arena and surrounding grounds or turn the space into a hotel and conference centre.

But city staff have suggested demolition is the most cost-effective option. An initial estimate from Northlands put the cost of demolition at $8 million, but the city's early estimate put the cost at between $15 million and $25 million.

A draft demolition report includes a few options, said Michelle Ouellette, a senior planner with the city leading redevelopment planning for the exhibition lands, though she would not elaborate.

"It cannot be repurposed," she said. "That is our direction and where we work from at this point."

The report is expected to be brought to the city's urban planning committee in January.

A concept plan is expected to be completed and made available to the public for feedback sometime in the new year, Ouellette added.

The city currently pays $1.5 million annually to maintain and secure the empty building. Items left inside the building have been slowly removed over the past year and some may be made available to the public in the future, Ouellette said.

Mayor Don Iveson told CBC News the city remains in the "planning phases" of determining what to do with the land. 

As for the coliseum itself, he's confident it will be coming down eventually. 

"I believe so. It has no practical use or reuse that is economically viable," he said. 

The city also needs to determine whether the demolition costs could be covered by a developer, he added. 

Changing communities

Residents of communities surrounding the coliseum have noticed changes as a result of the vacancy.

David Cournoyer has lived in the Bellevue neighbourhood for about seven years. His house is a 10-minute walk from the coliseum.

Since people are no longer parking in surrounding neighbourhoods to walk to Oilers games, traffic in the area has died down a lot, Cournoyer said.

Cournoyer worries the building and area could become an eyesore for the community or attract crime.

"There's a concern that we don't want the arena to simply be derelict," Cournoyer said.

A public consultation was held with residents in September, he said. Some of the proposals included turning the land into mixed residential and commercial space.

Neighbourhoods surrounding the arena are undergoing revitalization with infill and upgrades, Cournoyer said. Nearby, Borden Park is popular, with a new outdoor pool that opened this summer.

"What I'd like to see is the city not kick the can down the road too far and I'd like to see the city actually make some decisions and come up with a plan involving the community," he said.

"The worse case scenario is it just sits empty for years and nothing happens."

The closure of the coliseum has been felt by nearby businesses that once hosted the hockey crowd.

Dimitra Scordas owns Coliseum Steak and Pizza, just blocks away from the coliseum.

The restaurant has been open since 1976 — almost as old as the coliseum itself.

Scordas hasn't had to lay off any staff or cut hours. Longtime regulars still pop in for dinner before taking the LRT to a hockey game at Rogers Place, she said.

But the area is quieter now, and that's trickled into the restaurant as well.

"It's definitely affected our business. We miss all the hockey crowds and concert crowds and busy weekday evening nights," Scordas said.

"We definitely miss what went on down there."

Scordas doesn't believe demolishing the coliseum would hurt her business further, but hopes something new takes its place — maybe a conference centre, or a multi-use recreational facility.

"That would be ideal for us," she said. "Anything that would bring people there."

Jim Gendron, who lives south of Borden Park, doesn't have any specific idea of what should replace the coliseum, but says whatever goes in has to enhance and add value to the community.

The city has put more effort into consulting with developers instead of community members, said Gendron, chair of the neighbourhood development committee for the Parkdale Cromdale Community League.

When the issue comes up at the urban planning committee at the end of January, Gendron plans on being there. 

"The opportunity for residential development there is great," he said. "I think it's really going to enhance the city and the neighbourhoods around."