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Dozens speak at public hearing for Northlands’ Vision 2020 at city hall

WATCH ABOVE: The future of Northlands is once again up for debate at city hall. The non-profit organization has pitched its long-term vision for a multiplex and outdoor concert venue and on Wednesday, the public got its chance to weigh in on the proposal. Shallima Maharaj reports.

The future of Northlands is once again up for debate at Edmonton City Hall and dozens of stakeholders came to give their thoughts Wednesday.

The non-profit has pitched its long-term vision for a multiplex and outdoor concert venue and now citizens and stakeholders had the chance to weigh in during a public hearing.

For several hours, panellists – ranging from Northlands volunteers and equine veterinarians to area residents and federal politicians – gave five-minute presentations to council.

More than 40 people were scheduled to speak.

Some voiced support for the idea of a multiplex and having several rinks to support the local hockey community. One supporter said the area around Northlands is an area the city needs to invest in.

Others expressed concerns about negative impacts the development would have on the neighbourhood, especially the noise more outdoor concerts would bring.

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“I think we’re hearing today that there’s not a lot of public appetite for the festival site – either in the cost or the noise and disruption and traffic implications of bringing up to 40,000 people to the neighbourhood,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “So, we will need a different solution.

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“Again, horse racing for another year or two while we do a planning exercise to understand how much of that land should be reserved for future convention and event use and how much of it could potentially be converted.”

Among those present were a number of business associations, including Alberta Avenue, as well as Hockey Edmonton and Conservative MP and former city councillor Kerry Diotte, who spoke in support of the plan.

“Council’s rationale for building a new downtown arena is that we need to revitalize our downtown,” Diotte said. “Well, using that rationale, what other part of our city could best benefit from a major revitalization? You don’t need a degree in urban planning to answer that. Obviously it’s the area surrounding Northlands.”

“Regardless of the outcome, I think if we listen to the people of Edmonton and we listen to the leadership of the people, we’ll get the right result,” Northlands CEO Tim Reid said.

“We’ve always believed in engaging the community and this is the next round of that.”

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READ MORE: ‘Whatever it takes’: Horse racing fans call for Canadian Derby to stay in Edmonton ahead of potentially last race 

The chair of Horse Racing Alberta also addressed council, not for or against Northlands’ plan, but rather stressing the value of the industry and hoping to keep the track open.

The cost of the proposed plan is now estimated to be $230 million, which is quite a bit higher than what was originally projected.

READ MORE: New $165M vision for Northlands includes 7-sheet ice facility, outdoor concert space

Vision 2020 includes everything from a lacrosse field and outdoor concert space, to indoor and outdoor skating rinks.

The organization is trying to find a way to remain valuable and competitive now that it’s lost the Edmonton Oilers as a tenant at Rexall Place.

READ MORE: Northlands’ Vision 2020 doing ‘too much with too little’: city of Edmonton 

In a blog post Tuesday, Edmonton’s mayor laid out his recommendations for Northlands ahead of the public hearing.

Iveson made four recommendations: repurpose Northlands Coliseum (formerly Rexall Place) into a multiplex arena, integrate the Expo Centre and Shaw Conference Centre, repurpose and develop options for the horse racetrack and defer Northlands’ costs for a period of time.

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Iveson wrote his recommendations aim to secure “a more prosperous future for Edmonton’s event, convention and tourism businesses by uniting the convention centres.”

READ MORE: Edmonton mayor Don Iveson releases Northlands recommendations 

The topic of debt deferral was also discussed.

“I think there would certainly be some conditions around the debt deferral,” Iveson said. “I want to be crystal clear. The deferral is about saying: ‘you don’t have to pay us right now because we know you’re tight on cash but we expect you to pay us eventually.”

The matter will be revisited on Tuesday when councillors review the motions put forth Wednesday. One of the motions added to to the list was to look into the possibility of continuing horse racing at Northlands over the next two years.