Months after it first made a controversial application to rezone some of its property by Edmonton’s new downtown arena, the Katz Group – which owns the Edmonton Oilers and runs Rogers Place – has been given permission to convert the property into surface-area parking for the next three years.
City councillors voted seven to five Monday evening to allow the Katz Group to run a parking lot with 600 spaces just north of the arena. However, the deal also stipulates Katz must do more with the lot after three years.
Simon O’Byrne, an urban planner for Stantec who addressed councillors on behalf of the Katz Group Monday, said the group has no intentions of keeping the parking lot open longer anyway as this lot would simply serve to bridge the gap between now and when a larger, forthcoming Ice District parking facility opens.
“The joint venture has no interest in staying in the surface parking business,” he said. “They bought this land at vastly too high a price to do that. Instead they wish to provide a bridge until the Ice District parking facility opens in a couple of years. That parking accommodates 2,100 vehicles with seven-foot-three clearances, with a turning radius large enough to accommodate large vehicles.
“That matters because about a quarter of the people who own Oilers season tickets live more than 100 kilometres outside Edmonton. They keep our downtown hotels and restaurants and businesses busy when they drive in- often with large vehicles.”
O’Byrne said the parking lot will “start the process of cleaning up this land” and that efforts will be made to beautify the area, take care of clearing and maintenance and create a dropoff spot for the community rink at Rogers Place.
“This land has been used as parking. It has also been used unfortunately as a tent city, a place to do drug deals and a place for prostitution unfortunately.”
The move appears to go against council’s policy of trying to rein in the growth of surface-area parking lots in favour of bringing in more urban density and liveliness to the downtown core. Over the past 10 years, numerous lots have been phased out to make way for new development which has resulted in more people and businesses, and as a result, higher parking rates.
“I’m not clicking my heels over this,” Coun. Scott McKeen said. “Nobody would be that cares about the future of the downtown. Surface parking sort of detracts from vibrancy but you get put in this position where you have this blighted lot already, where you could go have somebody go clean it up, light it, put CCTV and security in and the requirement is it’s only for three years so that’s not bad.”
“It all adds up to something where you sort of hold your nose and go, ‘OK, that’s OK.'”
The Katz Group has verbally agreed to provide council with a development plan for the site next year.
“Early next year, you’re going to see some exciting renderings for the transformation of the southern part of Central McDougall,” O’Byrne said. “We’re going to see a huge transformation in terms of that area becoming an urban village.”
O’Byrne added the Katz Group would also like to see surface-area parking lots be replaced with high rises downtown.
“It’s not a great situation but it is in the interim and I look forward to the application coming forward for something more positive to happen here in the long term,” Mayor Don Iveson said.
After the three-year deal to allow the surface-area parking is up, there is an option to extend it for a maximum of three more years.
Under the agreement, the Katz Group will give $150,000 to the Central McDougall Community League for infrastructure improvements. However, one community activist said he was disappointed with the deal.
“I just don’t think we got much money out of it to do the type of things that we need in a really poor community,” Warren Champion, a director with the Central McDougall Community League, said. “That’s really sad because it was doable.
“I think if the economy goes into the tubes, I think we could be stuck with a long-term surface parking lot and that does nothing for the community.”
-With files from Sarah Kraus.
Watch below: On June 20, 2016, Vinesh Pratap filed this report after the developers of the Ice District applied to the city to set up a temporary parking lot by Rogers Place.