Two years ago I said ‘this is probably the best deal we can get under the circumstances – it’s just the circumstances I have a problem with.’
That comment was more about serious concerns I have about how pro-sports franchises do business with their host cities – and I’m still bothered by this, as are many, many citizens.
The deal I was talking about two years ago had less City money in it than this version. So by that measure, our circumstances have gotten worse.
But this deal also has more Katz Group money than it did two years ago. Not enough to satisfy everyone, but cash up front – even $15 million – is finally an improvement.
I am also pleased that the ill-advised decision to borrow against the provincial MSI infrastructure grants was reversed today. The decision to use the CRL to cover more of the project costs does have risk, but the CRL does have an upside. The City captures not only the new municipal taxes within the boundary but the new education tax revenues on growth in property value, so there’s a gain here.
However, it bears noting that the success of the CRL is contingent on the surrounding development going ahead, and I will say that if the surrounding development does go ahead, this will all work out.
But there is a bet here – because if the development doesn’t go ahead then regular taxpayers will wind up on the hook. So that billion plus dollars better be invested tomorrow.
The provincial angle hasn’t really worked out as originally hoped, but that’s understandable for many reasons. The good news is we can finally quit asking them over and over for funding they’ve insisted they won’t provide. Backing off will allow us to turn our attention back to the City Charter, to getting a fair share in the region, and to securing the real money we need for LRT, roads, and other infrastructure.
The recent regional support is helpful, though I would still have preferred to see that come more directly from the actual people – including our regional neighbours – who will use the building in the form of a broader ticket surcharge. But we don’t always get everything we want.
So – all that being said, I will be supporting this decision today for two reasons:
The first is more of a gut feeling that this will be good for downtown.
I’ve consistently said that a vibrant downtown is about the whole package, from sewers to streetscaping, not just about the arena or its district– and I still believe that – but this project is a vital part of the downtown most Edmontonians would like to see built.
The second reason, and this is the more logical reason, is simply that we aren’t going to get a better deal.
I’ve tenaciously held out for that better deal, and worked constructively towards a better deal, but Council’s been outmaneuvered at a number of points, and I think we pushed back far too late. Hopefully we can learn from this for future negotiations.
Still, this is the best deal this city will get now or in the foreseeable future.
I can’t see any realistic scenario where we’ll come out ahead by saying no today.
If we start over we’ll lose time and costs will rise. And the next election will be about this question rather than where we go next as a City.
If we do nothing, we still have an aging building, a team with no location agreement, and the same owner with the same negotiating position.
As tough as this deal is to swallow, I don’t see realistically how we’ll do any better by dragging this out further.
Since this is the final vote, I can no longer hope to change the deal.
So, I will vote yes, accepting the outcomes of the imperfect process, and accepting that the will of Council is to go ahead in spite of the imperfections in this deal.
I realize this will surprise and disappoint some, but politics exists to answer the tough questions where you can’t please everyone.
Now, with this decision I am shifting my focus and energy to keeping this project on-time and on-budget, and to ensuring the arena and surrounding development delivers on all the promise it holds for our downtown.