Rogers Place arena opens in downtown Edmonton to great fanfare

WATCH ABOVE: After nearly a decade of planning, debate and construction, Rogers Place is finally open. The festivities got underway Thursday morning with the unveiling of a public artwork. Then, The Great One himself hit the ice. Here's extensive video coverage of the grande opening.

Rogers Place opened to Edmontonians Thursday after years of debate and construction.

Speaking to reporters at the afternoon portion of the arena’s grand opening, Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz suggested the opening of Rogers Place will be a turning point in the the revitalization of downtown Edmonton.

“For the first time in decades, Edmonton will have a world-class urban core to match our world-class community spirit,” Katz said.

“It was eight years ago that a leadership committee, drawn from across the community, wrote in its city-shaping report, ‘The greatest opportunity for Edmonton lies in developing a new facility that will revitalize our downtown and add to the excitement that is just getting started to build in our core,'” he added. “Well, here we are.”

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Watch below: As the doors to Rogers Place opened Thursday afternoon, Daryl Katz started off his speech by thanking his family and a man who needs no introduction, Wayne Gretzky. Katz said the excitement of the downtown arena is “building all around us.”

Click to play video: '‘The result has been so incredibly worth the effort’: Daryl Katz on Rogers Place opening'
‘The result has been so incredibly worth the effort’: Daryl Katz on Rogers Place opening

A who’s who of the Edmonton Oilers franchise was on hand as Katz spoke at the ceremony including The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky said Katz invited him to the arena’s grand opening and asked if he would speak at the ceremony.

“It really is a special, special arena,” Gretzky said before joking, “the ice isn’t quite as fast as Rexall, I tested it today. I seemed to be faster in the 90s.”

Watch below: Wayne Gretzky said the ice at Rogers Place must not be as fast as the ice at Rexall Place because he seemed to remember being much faster in the 1990s.

Click to play video: '‘The ice isn’t quite as fast as Rexall’: Wayne Gretzky jokes about Rogers Place rink'
‘The ice isn’t quite as fast as Rexall’: Wayne Gretzky jokes about Rogers Place rink

“The atmosphere and the building is exactly what Edmonton’s all about,” Gretzky added. “It’s friendly, it’s classy, it’s nice, it’s warm – and I truly believe that Edmontonians are going to brag and talk about the whole entire complex for eternity.”

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Watch below: The Great One Wayne Gretzky hits the ice at Rogers Place

Click to play video: 'The Great One Wayne Gretzky hits the ice at Rogers Place'
The Great One Wayne Gretzky hits the ice at Rogers Place

How the grand opening was celebrated

On Thursday morning, Mayor Don Iveson was on hand to unveil the mosaic tile art piece in the floor of Ford Hall (formerly called the Winter Garden). The piece was created from artist Alex Janvier’s Tsa tsa ke k’e (Iron Foot Place) painting. The aboriginal muralist’s mosaic is one of four major public art pieces in the arena.

With a 14-metre diameter, Iron Foot Place represents the beauty of the Edmonton area. The mosaic highlights the skies, lakes and stories of the Capital Region.

Watch below: Tile mosaic Iron Foot Place unveiled at Rogers Place 

Click to play video: 'Tile mosaic unveiled at Rogers Place'
Tile mosaic unveiled at Rogers Place

The piece is made up of nearly one million byzantine glass smalti tiles and it weighs over 3,500 pounds. It took 20 Mosaika staff six months to put the artwork together at its art mosaic fabrication studio in Montreal.

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“It’s fitting this artwork by Alex Janvier was chosen for the heart of this space,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “Not only does it celebrate our shared history, it also represents the natural beauty and tranquility of our landscape.”

Janiver was born on the Le Golf Reserve near Cold Lake. When he was eight years old he was sent to the Blue Quills Indian Residential School near St. Paul where he escaped into his artwork and began to hone his talent.

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Gretzky met with Janvier before hitting the ice at Rogers Place with his kids.

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Watch below: A mosaic tile art piece is now in place in the floor of Ford Hall inside Rogers Place. The piece was designed by Alberta artist Alex Janvier, but who is he? Janvier is part of what’s known as the Indian Group of Seven artists who have achieved international recognition. Despite the accolades, the 81-year-old lives a pretty humble life. Vinesh Pratap met with him at his gallery on the Cold Lake First Nation.

Click to play video: 'Who is Alex Janvier, the artist behind the tile mosaic artwork at Rogers Place?'
Who is Alex Janvier, the artist behind the tile mosaic artwork at Rogers Place?

READ MORE: How does Edmonton’s Rogers Place stack up against other NHL arenas?

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Watch below: Over the years we have been covering the debate and controversy surrounding the Rogers Place downtown arena, and we’ve spoken to professor of sports management Dan Mason throughout the process. He joined Global News Morning again Thursday morning to talk about what the arena had done and will continue to do for the city.

Click to play video: 'Sports professor on what new Rogers Place downtown arena means for Edmonton'
Sports professor on what new Rogers Place downtown arena means for Edmonton

By the numbers: Size, seats, costs

The project’s completion has required thousands of workers, an enormous amount of material and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rogers Place replaces Rexall Place, home to the Edmonton Oilers since 1974 in a city, and region, that loves the team, names streets after its players and delivers year-over-year sellout crowds.

That, in spite of not making the playoffs in a decade.

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At 819,200 square feet, it’s almost twice as large as Rexall, which the Oilers moved out of at the end of the last season.

And as impressive as the $613.7 million building looks from the outside, it’s what’s inside that staff hope will really blow people away.

It’s a world of wide seats, open concourses, curtains and walls demarcated by 38 different ticket price points.

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Everything is upscale, punctuated above centre ice by a giant, high-definition scoreboard — the largest in the NHL — that spans blue-line to blue-line.

Between the lower and upper bowls are exclusive rings of executive suites, theatre suites and loge seats.

At the far end are a sports bar and an after-hours-type club. Between the blue-lines in the lower bowl are wider club seats, with exclusive lounge access.

The arena can seat over 18,000 people at hockey games and over 20,000 for concerts. Over half of the seats are in the lower bowl.

Rogers Place arena opens in downtown Edmonton to great fanfare - image
Tonia Huynh, Global News

The arena also has over 1,200 TVs, access to Wi-Fi and a Rogers Place app.

Anticipation to see the new facility is high: over 50,000 free tickets to Saturday’s open house have been claimed. So much so, that an extra hour of tour time was added.

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READ MORE: Numbers connected to Edmonton’s Rogers Place construction will blow your mind

So how much will Oilers tickets cost me?

Ticket prices are higher than Rexall Place, in some cases double for a similarly located seat. A season ticket in the corner nosebleeds is $2,600. Sitting near the boards near centre ice for the year will cost $9,765.

If you want to sit in the loge area by the rail with a drink in your hand for the season, that will be $15,750, please.

There will be multiple art installations, including the three-metre high bronze statue of Wayne Gretzky hoisting the Stanley Cup, which had been in front of Rexall Place.

The food is varied and rises to the high end: butter chicken curry, bison burger, perogy nachos, organic red beet and frisee salad, hot rum buns.

Watch below: If you’re wondering what’s on the menu at Rogers Place, on Tuesday the media got a sneak peek at what’s on tap. What’s still missing, though, are the prices. As Shallima Maharaj shows us, the menu goes way beyond your basic rink burger.

Click to play video: 'Rogers Place menu goes beyond the basic rink burger'
Rogers Place menu goes beyond the basic rink burger

Parking and security

With so many people in the area, parking is a major concern. While the city would prefer people take transit, there are 12,000 parking stalls within a 10-minute walk of Rogers Place and there will be seven LRT stops within walking distance once the Valley Line is completed.

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The city also changed the way on-street parking is handled during events – which means no more free parking after 6 p.m.

Starting at the beginning of this month, the City of Edmonton extended EPark hours of operation in the downtown area from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Rogers Place event nights. The rate will be $3.50 per hour from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Right now, the maximum time you’re allowed to park with EPark during the day is two hours. However, the city’s acting director of parking management said that will also change on event days so people can pay for five hours.

READ MORE: Parking downtown Edmonton just got more expensive on Rogers Place event nights

Thousands of people are expected at the arena during any given event, and with the expected influx of people in the downtown core, security is one of the biggest challenges facing the new arena.

Oilers Entertainment Group staff will operate a 24/7 security control room, and will have staff within the facility at all hours. About 300 full- and part-time security officers have been hired, although the number of guards on shift at any given time will depend on the size and scale of each event.

Edmonton police have also added 33 new officers to its downtown division, doubling the previous police presence in the area.

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READ MORE: How will Rogers Place handle security during major events?

How did we get here? A brief – and we mean brief – history

Rogers Place is the centrepiece of a broad plan to revitalize the city’s downtown, an area long-dismissed as an after-hours hibernation zone landmarked by wind-swept parking lots and shuttered store fronts.

The ribbon-cutting caps years of melodrama, debate, negotiation, bluff, bluster, apologies and anger that began when Oilers owner Daryl Katz bought the team in 2008 and immediately began beating the drum for a new home.

Katz and the city councillors came together and apart like an accordion as they haggled over who should pay what.

They had a deal in 2011, only to see it fall apart when Katz took another look at the numbers.

Neither side would blink. Katz wooed Seattle as a relocation choice. Fans fumed. Katz apologized. Councillors and Katz came back together.

Construction on the facility started in March 2014, after a public/private partnership between the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Arena Corporation – a Katz Group company – was reached in May 2013.

The deal will see the Edmonton Arena Corporation operate the city-owned facility and pay maintenance expenses. But the company will get all the revenues.

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As part of the deal, the Katz Group had to commit to spend $100 million in new development.

Since arena construction started, the company and its partner – WAM Development Group – have announced the creation of Ice District with two office towers, a hotel, residences and retail. The investment stands at more than $2 billion within a couple of blocks of Rogers Place.

READ MORE: A look back at the debate over Rogers Place as it sets to open in Edmonton

With files from Vinesh Pratap and Slav Kornik, Global News and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press.

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