This is a modified version of the statement I gave to the media earlier today, Wednesday, September 24th.
Today, administration released its report analyzing Northlands’ redevelopment plan. It is a long and thorough assessment of the current and future state not only of the facilities at Northlands but of key aspects of Northlands’ re-envisioning. Next Wednesday’s public hearing will give City Council the chance to discuss Northlands proposals in more detail and hear from the public about what they imagine the future of Northlands to be.
Before then, however, I wanted to share my high level reaction to the key findings in the report.
Northlands has proposed an ambitious plan and there are several elements that are worthy of further exploration. These are the kinds of decisions that will define the future of northeast Edmonton – and the health of the City’s finances – so Council’s job must be to make decisions that are in the best interest of our city – and not just a single organization.
At the heart of this plan is repurposing the Coliseum into a multiplex arena. From my conversations in the community, from hockey parents to hoteliers, there seems to be broad support to bring this transformation to life. We all recognize the important legacy of the Coliseum and the special place it holds in our city’s story. A multiplex may very well be the best future for the Coliseum, one that honours our past but gives tomorrow’s athletes a place to grow and build a lifelong connection to sport and wellness. I recognize that further analysis would be required prior to final decision by Council, including capital and operating implications. But there are potential partners, too – and there is no reason not to think big about what kind of boost a reimagined Coliseum could provide for the future of amateur sports in our city.
Turning to the festival site, from administration’s analysis, it’s clear that there isn’t an overwhelming demand for a site like this and some of our largest festival partners have said they are not interested in relocating at this time. So the question then becomes: what is the best possible use for this remarkable piece of land, one that is surrounded by wonderful public spaces, great transit connections and close to major amenities? More work certainly needs to be done, likely through a new area redevelopment plan, to set a more sustainable and inspiring future for this area. But opportunities to do this kind of work don’t come along very often, and it’s critical that we aren’t rushed, that we make the right decision for our city.
Throughout this process, I have been clear in my call for a unified approach to event and convention attraction in Edmonton. This report provides a wakeup call that the time for this coordination is now. I believe we have been underperforming when it comes to attracting conferences and conventions to Edmonton. The low utilization rates highlighted in this report bear this assumption out and are no doubt contributing to the financial stress Northlands is under. I have consistently pushed for action on bringing the Expo Centre and the Shaw Conference Centre closer together, because there are opportunities to increase our efficiencies and unify our efforts to ensure our long-term economic prosperity.
Who manages these facilities is not a question for today, but it must be addressed and I will be pushing toward a resolution on this at Council next Wednesday.
Of course, the question that continues to loom over Council’s discussion is the debt owed to the City by Northlands. I believe Edmontonians would not support simply forgiving a debt this large, nor do I think it is fair to expect residents to pick up the tab without a solid plan in place. Based on administration’s analysis of Vision 2020, there are no easy answers and no silver bullet. There may be some interim solutions that can be explored until some of the larger questions around Northlands are answered, and I am open to hearing arguments for this next week.
But we must be realistic, and we must act in the best interests of the city’s economy.