Tag Archives: Edmonton Oilers

The arena formerly known as Rexall Place, owned and operated by Northlands.

City Council needs to get it right on Northlands Coliseum redevelopment

It has been about 10 years since the City of Edmonton seriously began studying the concept of funding the construction of a downtown arena, and 6 years since City Council voted to approve a financial deal with the Edmonton Oilers and its billionaire owner, Daryl Katz, to construct a new arena.

But despite the years of attention paid to the new arena, not much focus was given to the arena that housed the Edmonton Oilers since 1974. When the shiny new Rogers Place arena opened downtown in 2016, there was still no real plan for the future of the old arena, now known again as Northlands Coliseum.

The implications of the Oilers move downtown was huge for the Coliseum and Northlands and a non-compete clause agreed to by the City crippled the already disadvantaged older arena. Without the revenue generated from NHL hockey games or large concerts, the Northlands organization was placed in a dire financial situation.

Better late than never, Northlands released a Vision 2020 proposal in 2016. The plan focused on the entire Northlands property and proposed the Coliseum be renovated into a six-rink hockey arena. The idea was later considered financial untenable by City Council.

City Council has since cannibalized much of the Northlands operations and voted to close the Coliseum.

Now sitting empty and unused, the question facing City Councillors meeting at City Hall this week is what to do with the closed building.

As a resident of the area (I live a 10 minute walk away from the Coliseum in the Bellevue neighbourhood), it is frustrating to feel like this area of the city was an afterthought. But while it is important to recognize past mistakes made by the City on this issue, it is also helpful to look for solutions for the future.

Community input and engagement should play a critical role in determining the future of the Coliseum and the Northlands property. But the engagement should be meaningful. Meaningless buzz-phrases, like we saw included in a recent press release from the City of Edmonton on this issue are not helpful (ie: “tap[ping] into the magnitude of the opportunity for transformation”).

Meaningful engagement is important, because residential neighbourhoods and commercial districts in the area will be directly impacted by any future plans, just as they had by the past expansion of Northlands.

It was only a short 15 years ago that City Council approved the Northlands Redevelopment Plan, which allowed Northlands to bulldoze the four block single detached residential area known as West Bellevue and three blocks of North Cromdale. The 2003 Northlands ARP literally paved West Bellevue into the parking lot that sits on the west side of Wayne Gretzky Drive.

I am not sure what the best new use of the land would be, but I do not know anyone who thinks leaving the Coliseum boarded up and abandoned would be good for the neighbourhood. But an empty and abandoned lot fit for gravel and Used Car Dealerships is also not ideal.

The $15.5 million to $25 million projected cost to demolish the Coliseum may give some Councillors sticker shock, but it is pennies compared to the public funds invested into the downtown Roger Place arena.

As recent city council candidate Kris Andreychuk and University of Alberta professor John McCoy wrote in the Edmonton Journal on Oct. 20, 2017:

“Allowing the Northlands site to sit idle and empty will not only create an eyesore in a storied area of the city — the arena where we became the City of Champions — it will also stimulate a host of community-safety issues and drive away the small business owners who are the lifeblood of the community.

These are not easy times in Edmonton. But what cannot be denied is the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of Edmontonians and their ability to find solutions to our collective challenges. Northlands is a test for the City of Edmonton and local developers — there is much at stake and we need to get it right.”

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

Partying like it’s 2016! A look ahead at next weekend’s Alberta NDP convention in Calgary

In the past, the media and political watchers would pay little attention to a provincial convention held by Alberta’s New Democratic Party. It is expected that all media and political watchers will be paying close attention to the debate at the NDP’s convention in Calgary next weekend.

Back in 2009, during a stint as a freelance writer, I covered the NDP convention for the now-defunct alt-weekly known as SEE Magazine. I may have been the only media representative actually in attendance at the convention.

That weekend in 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project. The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.

The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates. Seven years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral agreements. They are holding their first convention as Alberta’s governing party after their win in the 2015 provincial election.

Instead of a dingy hotel in downtown Edmonton, this year’s convention will be held on June 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at the swanky Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Along with 54 NDP MLAs in attendance, the convention will feature keynote speeches from the Edmonton Oilers‘ Andrew Ference on Jobs and Diversification, Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham on Climate Leadership, Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh on Diversity and Reducing Inequality, and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Labour issues.

This will be the first NDP convention in recent memory that the mainstream media will pay much attention to and with that in mind, the party’s leadership will do their best to turn the weekend into a celebration of the NDP’s 2015 election win and accomplishments in its first year of government. The weekend includes a $200 a plate banquet and a party at the Glenbow Museum featuring Scenic Route to Alaska, The Northwest Passage and Los Moreno’s.

It feels far from the dim-lit windowless hotel ballroom in downtown Edmonton but that does not mean it will be without its acrimonious moments.

A group of party activists unhappy with NDP MLA’s support of a Wildrose Party motion calling on the federal government to scrap a planned moratorium on tankers on Canada’s Pacific coastal waters are expected to spearhead a debate on whether the motion goes against against a party policy opposing the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passed at a previous convention.

There may also be debate about changing the role of organizational affiliates in the NDP. Unlike other provincial political parties, the NDP allows organizations to affiliate with their party in order to have a greater say in their leadership votes and at conventions.

These affiliates are almost always labour unions but as unions are no longer allowed to donate to political parties or pay for delegates to attend conventions, the previous existing advantages for the party and affiliate no longer exists. I am told that before the NDP banned corporate and union donations in the first law they passed in 2015, affiliated unions donated 15-cents per member per-month to the party.

Delegates will also be voting in elections for the party’s provincial executive. For some reason that is unknown and puzzling, the NDP is the only provincial political party in Alberta that does not list the names of its executive or board of directors on its website. Perhaps this will change now that the NDP is the province’s governing party.

Here is a list of who is running for the party’s four table officer positions:

President: Teacher and president of the party’s Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview constituency association Peggy Wright is the only candidate to have entered the presidential election. The position was made vacant when former president Chris O’Halloran, who had served as president since 2013, stepped down to start a job in the Premier’s Southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

First Vice-President: Two candidates are running for this position: labour activist and United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Officer Jason Rockwell and lawyer and past candidate Anne Wilson. Mr. Rockwell ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding. Ms. Wilson ran as a provincial NDP candidate in 2008 in Banff-Cochrane and 2015 in Calgary-Foothills (against Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice). In July 2015 she ran for the NDP nomination for the Calgary-Foothills by-election but was defeated by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth.

[Note: I work with Jason Rockwell in my day job as Communications Advisor with United Nurses of Alberta. I am not an NDP member, but if I were he would certainly get my vote at this convention.]

Second Vice-President: It appears that Lou Arab may be acclaimed in his bid for re-election. Mr. Arab is a near-legendary campaign manager in NDP circles for his role in the election campaigns of Marlin Schmidt in 2012 and 2015 and Sarah Hoffman in 2010. He is a Communications Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Alberta and also happens to be the husband of Premier Rachel Notley.

Treasurer: Siobhan Vipond, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, is running for re-election and does not appear to be facing any challengers at this time.

I am told that more than 500 delegates have registered to attend the Calgary convention.

Three days left to support the Pride Tape kickstarter

1,083 backers have stepped up to donate $70.073 in support the Pride Tape kickstarter campaign since it was  started in December 2015. Launched by the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta and supported by Calder Bateman Communications, Pride Tape is a campaign aimed at helping increase inclusivity for LGBTQ youth in hockey.

“Now more than ever, people should be free to love whoever they choose. Yet most LGBTQ youth still don’t feel welcome playing team sports. These kids don’t have many professionals to look up to—and for young hockey players, there are no “out” role models at all. So how can the hockey world show their support with pride? With a simple roll of tape.

Pride Tape is a badge of support from the teammates, coaches, parents and pros to young LGBTQ players. It shows every player that they belong on the ice. That we’re all on the same team. And we need your help to make it a reality.

When Pride Tape is up and running, proceeds will support LGBTQ youth outreach initiatives, such as You Can Play and the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. That means every roll of tape will make an impact on and off the ice.”

The campaign has gained the support of Andrew Ference and the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, Los Angeles Kings Goalie Coach Bill Ranford and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, among many others.

In British Columbia, Vancouver MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert has written to the Vancouver Canucks encouraging the team to embrace the Pride Tape campaign.

The Pride Tape kickstarter is running until Feb. 3 at 11:59 p.m., so don’t miss your opportunity to support the campaign.

The future of Rexall Place without the Edmonton Oilers

Northlands Rexall Place Edmonton Oilers Arena

Northlands’ Rexall Place is the current home of the Edmonton Oilers.

In the great rush to relocate the Edmonton Oilers to Daryl Katz‘s new downtown arena district, there appears to have been little serious thought or planning focused on what to do with the professional hockey team’s long-time current home, Rexall Place.

Located north east of downtown on the Northlands Exposition Grounds, Rexall Place is an aging facility and, unlike the planned entertainment district surrounding the new downtown arena, the current arena is located inside a concrete no-man’s land surrounded by residential neighbourhoods.

Once known as “Northlands Coliseum,” the arena opened on November 10, 1974 and initially housed the World Hockey Association Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers joined the National Hockey League in 1979. According to Wikipedia, the arena is the third oldest NHL arena behind Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1968 and 1972.

As a homeowner in the Bellevue neighbourhood directly east of the Northlands Grounds, I am naturally interested in the future of Rexall Place, which could both impact the future quality of the area neighbourhood and the property value of my home. In fact, part of the current Northlands Grounds were once part of Bellevue, before the blocks of houses were demolished to make way for an expansive parking lot.

Northlands has named a 17-person strategy committee to help determine the future of Rexall Place. While it is a good sign that Northlands is now weighing its options, it is concerning that the committee does not appear to include any residents of the neighbourhoods surrounding the arena.

As a neighbour who has politely lived through the lively crowds of KDays, has not complained publicly about the sounds of SONiC BOOM, and who chooses to recycle the empties deposited on our lawn after hockey games, it is my hope that the committee will seriously consider what the implications of their decisions will be on the local community.

I hope that Northlands will listen to the advice and ideas of the residents living in the neighbourhoods surrounding the soon to be former arena. While Northlands provides venues for the entire city and northern Alberta, the people living with the arena in their backyard deserve to be given significant input into the decision making process.

I worry that in the rush to compete with the new downtown arena district, Northlands may miss bigger opportunities.

Northlands would be wise to look to the revitalization of 118th Avenue (also known as Alberta Avenue) to its west and become part of the ongoing renewal. Although large parts of the area are still rough around the edges, the area has come a long way. Drive down 118th Avenue on a Saturday morning and you will discover bustling locally-owned butcher shops, bakeries, cafes and grocery stores.

The redevelopment of Borden Park, south of the Northlands Grounds, could provide inspiration for the future of the current concrete expanse that surrounds Rexall Place. A friendlier and greener area would certainly be more welcoming than the current expanse of concrete walkways and parking lots.

Northlands should also consider the success of the nearby Commonwealth Community Rec Centre, adjacent to Commonwealth Stadium (home to the Edmonton Eskimos), in providing value for residents in this area of the city. Rather than just being a venue for travelling carnivals, conferences and cattle shows, Northlands should look at ways the arena space can become more relevant to the communities that surround it.

Given the opportunities available to the Northlands committee and future developers, the worst thing that could happen would be to leave the arena as it is; devoid of street interaction, free of community building activities and unfriendly to better development.

The departure of the Edmonton Oilers from Rexall Place presents a unique opportunity for Northlands to engage the residents living in the area. Just as the arena district is reshaping the area north of downtown Edmonton, the redevelopment of the arena could present a positive opportunity for residents north east of downtown.


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