Oilers owner files arena rezoning request

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz has submitted a rezoning application for a new downtown arena and entertainment centre.
This image of a redeveloped downtown was part of a presentation by an executive for the Katz Group in February. ((Katz Group))

The company owned by Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz submitted a rezoning application to the city for a new downtown arena and entertainment centre that includes plans for hotel and office towers, a student residence and apartments, it was announced Monday.

The project includes two proposed hotels and a casino east of the arena, a student residence, a small practice arena and an office tower/parkade to the west. It also includes more apartments and an office tower around a plaza south of 104th Avenue, which is linked to the arena by a walkway.

The complex would be located on a 6.5-hectare site that is currently the home of the Baccarat Casino and would replace the aging Rexall Place, where the NHL team plays now.

"This is about much more than an arena. This is about an opportunity to create a mixed-use district which will change the way that the world sees Edmonton," said Katz Group vice-president Bob Black.

Both Black and Jim Low, head of planning and development with the Katz Group's Edmonton Arena District project, rejected suggestions the development could draw people away from other parts of downtown.

"It's going to increase the activity in the downtown as a whole," Low said.

The Katz Group wants construction on the arena to start by January 2012, with the facility open for the start of the NHL season in 2014.

Funding not part of rezoning request

According to a city news release, the application package formally launches the review process and doesn't commit the city to anything. It also doesn't deal with funding, which has been the most controversial aspect of the proposal.

Jim Low, left, and Bob Black from the Katz Group show the plans for the downtown arena complex to reporters in Edmonton on Monday. (CBC)
"That is clearly an important element at the end of the day … but that's not what today is about," said Gary Klassen, the city's general manager of planning and development. "Today is about whether or not the development that we're seeing, in fact, has the ability to be fit in this particular area."

Discussions about a funding model for the project are still underway, Black said.

"We have and will continue to show flexibility in our approach to the funding. We are working in earnest to come up with a funding model, which works for all concerned," he said.

The rezoning request will first undergo a technical review and eventually go to public hearings. Specific aspects of the project, including building heights and density, will be handled through the approval process of a development permit, Klassen said.

"It's one step along the way," said Mayor Stephen Mandel. "I mean there's lots of steps along the way."

"We got a nice application, which is nice to see they're moving forward and it'll follow the city's process and then at the end of the day, it'll come before city council."

It's too early to say if she will support the proposal, said Coun. Jane Batty.

"I'm of two emotions, to be honest," she said. "One is, how you get it paid for? Secondly, how does Northlands fit into the mix of all of this? But most importantly, what is the best for the city of Edmonton?" she said.

The Katz Group made the designs for the project public in February. It would include two hotels, a new casino, student residences and other commercial development in a package Black suggested represents a $1-billion investment.

When he unveiled the proposal, Black suggested the city would build and own the arena, with the Katz Group and its partners financing the surrounding development.

Shortly afterward, in an interview with Edmonton radio station CHED, Katz repeated his promise to put $100 million of his own money towards the project, adding how the funding would be worked out depends on a number of issues, including who would own the arena.