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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