Tuesday marked the final City Council meeting of this term, and it was a long one. I was happy to see resolutions on several key issues but most significantly, I am most pleased we were able to publicly discuss and announce news on Northlands. For many months Council had to discuss the outstanding issues with Northlands in private because there were interrelated contractual, financial and human resource matters to consider before we moved forward. With these issues worked out, the future of Northlands is much clearer.
There are four key aspects of today’s news that I’d like to highlight.
First, with the closing of the Coliseum and the consolidation of the EXPO Centre with EEDC operations, the future for Northlands remains strong, and after this difficult transition I’m certain they will be in a much better position to drive successful events, support the community, and leverage their role as Northern Alberta’s agricultural society to lead growth in our agriculture and food sectors well into the future. This is one of the biggest economic development and growth opportunities for our region and our province and one of the reasons I wanted to continue working with Northlands through this transition.
Secondly, with the consolidation of all of our conference centres under a single organization (EEDC), I also really believe that we can drive stronger hospitality options for our hoteliers and our retailers by marketing them in a unified way and by operating them with some synergies. This means there will still be lots of jobs at both convention centres and I look forward to welcoming those people that work at Northlands Expo Centre today into the extended City of Edmonton family on January 1st. While we are assuming some debt with this deal, we are getting a $100 million dollar facility for the cost of its mortgage payments ($4 million/year) and I am confident we can drive $4 million worth of new value a year to the Edmonton economy.
Thirdly, I think the redevelopment plans for the site, including the Coliseum and the balance of the site including the race track, is going to be an exciting opportunity for the next Council to work with the community and planners to shape a bold vision that adds nothing but positive activity to the neighbourhoods around Northlands and benefits the businesses who are already there. As much as we wanted to see the Coliseum re-purposed, no major partners showed an interest in investing in the capital costs associated with re-purposing the building and I was not prepared to let these costs ($100 – $150 million range) fall to Edmontonians. That’s why Council determined it was simply not cost effective to keep the building running.
Finally, the future of our relationship with Oilers Entertainment Group is now firmly set up for long term success. As you may know, the Master Agreement with Oilers Entertainment Group for Rogers Place was binding and prevented the City from supporting the Coliseum as a sports or entertainment venue. It also locked the City into a sponsorship agreement that included the City paying for a suite in the new arena and agreeing to a long-term advertising deal, among other things. I have wanted to revisit this part of the arena agreement all the way along. Since then, I have been working hard to have this $2 million annual cost ($17 million over the remaining term) to taxpayers rerouted to benefit the city as a whole. OEG has asked that we consider using these funds to support amateur sports, which could include a Hockey Academy concept, however those decisions will be up to the next council.
Overall, this was about taking the right next step for the city as a whole, helping Northlands make a successful transition, and improving our long-term relationship with the Oilers Entertainment Group. Today’s decisions and announcements allow us all to move forward with certainty – and confidence.