It’s an issue Edmontonians have known for years would have to be dealt with, but more than a year after the Edmonton Oilers left Northlands Coliseum for a slick new downtown arena, people living near the old arena are still waiting for the city and Northlands to decide what the building’s fate will be.
“Nothing sitting empty is a good thing,” Rick Shermack, the general manager of Axe Music, which is located across from the Coliseum, said on Wednesday.
“It’s another year – nothing,” he added. “Let’s do something with it. It’s a great property.”
Last month, the city let on it would support Hockey Canada’s proposal to install four sheets of ice, a running track, classrooms and other amenities to form a centre of excellence at the arena. The deal would require the city, the Katz Group and Hockey Canada to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) about the building’s future use.
But just last week, a new report to council raised new questions about the decision when it indicated tearing down the arena and building a new facility would cost significantly less money.
On Tuesday, Edmonton city council put off making a decision on signing a memorandum of understanding with Hockey Canada on the Northlands Coliseum.
“This is really preliminary stuff,” Coun. Dave Loken said of the MOU, suggesting the city should still get one signed right away even if decisions about the arena still have to be worked out.
Other councillors also expressed concerns about the potential consequences of further delaying a Coliseum decision.
“We need to understand what those risks of not giving this more urgent priority may be,” Coun. Michael Walters said at city hall on Tuesday.
However, Mayor Don Iveson suggested rushing a decision about the Coliseum was a moot point anyway since there are other factors at play.
“It’s all speculation on land that we own but don’t control because the lease hasn’t been surrendered yet,” the mayor said Tuesday. “Discussions with Northlands are continuing and they are complicated.
“For me the most important thing is not the arena strategy,” Iveson added.
“The most important thing is finding a good outcome for the neighbourhoods around Northlands and the businesses along 118 Avenue.”
Northlands’ lease to manage and operate Northlands Coliseum runs until 2049.
“We continue to actively work with the City of Edmonton to build a sustainable and viable future for Northlands,” Northlands said in a statement Wednesday. “We will continue to meet with city administration on a path forward that will benefit our neighbours and the city as a whole.”
“(If the city continues to stall on a decision) we’re going to drag this out a little longer, God knows how long it’s going to take,” Loken warned.
“The longer things take, you lose things along the way,” he added, appearing to refer to the deal with Hockey Canada.
Iveson said he believes if the report to council had found it was cost-effective to repurpose the Coliseum, he would be much more inclined to move forward with the Hockey Canada proposal “but that isn’t what we heard.”
Global News spoke to half-a-dozen residents who live near the Coliseum. All of them said they hoped the arena won’t be torn down.
“I think it would be a mistake to destroy it,” area resident Stuart Bailie said. “It takes a lot of money to tear that thing down and then if they’re going to replace it with something, that takes more.”
-With files from Kendra Slugoski