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If you build it, they will come. Or at least Mayor Mandel will

Map of EdmontonThis? This is the long-awaited report on a brand-new hockey arena for Edmonton's downtown that has everyone panting and grabbing their spades to break ground? Well, of course it's not: it's merely a summary. There has been a study of requirements for a new arena by international sports-architecture giant HOK, but you can't see that, nor can you see the market research by Convention, Sports, and Leisure International. They "cannot be released due to the commercially competitive nature of their information on prospective facility sites and Oilers business information." But everything looks good, trust us!

Say, we're not going to let HOK actually build this arena after letting them advise us on the construction parameters, are we? Because that seems like it would be a conflict of interest.

I'm not too clear after reading the summary just what is wrong with the existing Rexall Place. I was looking forward to some clear public explanation of this, but all we've been given is a lot of wind about "downtown revitalization." (It's not the kind of revitalization that pays for itself, though: "Major civic facilities such as these do not generate sufficient returns on investment to attract 100 percent private development capital," HOK tells us, forcing one to wonder how other Canadian cities managed exactly that. "Incentives and participation from the public sector should be considered a necessary component of a financing plan.") There's a note on the "Financial Perspectives" page that says

Alternatives to a new facility are not zero cost. The status quo has a cost, driven by ongoing and escalating costs of regular facility maintenance and upgrades to Rexall Place. These costs are expected to reach into the tens of millions of dollars over the next 15 years. The cost of the status quo would also be reflected in lost opportunity costs to the citizens of Edmonton.

Set this "tens of millions of dollars over 15 years" against the upfront $450 million capital cost of the new facility, which doesn't include buying someplace to put the damn thing. How much does six acres smackdab in the middle of Edmonton go for these days? And won't this new arenaplex thingy require maintenance and occasional upgrades? Or will it be made of self-healing nanomachines and fairy dust?

Bonus surprise for the Alberta taxpayer:

Committee member Charlotte Robb said government contributions, combined with the $135 million from private sources, might combine to cover 60 per cent of the total cost. Robb said she believes senior governments "would be delighted" to contribute to a new arena. She said Calgary isn't far behind Edmonton in planning its new arena.

It's official, folks!—the 25-year-old Pengrowth Saddledome is in the crosshairs too. That's the expected life of a modern sports arena now: about a quarter-century. Most of them have been built by HOK, of course. There's no business model like being paid by your customers to declare their existing version of your product obsolete.

[UPDATE, Mar. 26: More discussion, and an artist's rendition of the new building, here. Further thoughts from me here.]


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