Northlands Coliseum’s neighbours want more input on plan for exhibition lands

Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum. File/Global News

City council’s executive committee voted Thursday to finally formalize the cancellation of a sponsorship agreement with the Edmonton Oilers and to launch what will be a consultation and review process for the 160 acres of the exhibition lands.

At next Tuesday’s council meeting, they’ll vote to close the Coliseum for good, in exchange for ending a 10-year sponsorship agreement on Rogers Place that would have seen the city pay the Oilers an additional $17 million.

The city sponsorship was one part of the master agreement city council approved in the downtown arena deal, and it’s the legal document that Mayor Don Iveson says guides all arena-based decisions.

“The master agreement still supersedes,” Iveson said prior to Thursday’s vote.

“Whether that was a good idea or a bad idea for council to agree to in April of 2013, that was an agreement the City of Edmonton made and I believe that we have to stick to our agreements, whether we like them or not in retrospect.”

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READ MORE: Report tells Edmonton city council to go slow on Coliseum decision

That vote has turned most people’s thoughts to the demolition of the Coliseum.

“It’s probably inevitable,” said Brian Finley, the president of the Bellevue Community League, which borders the exhibition grounds, across from Borden Park.

“City council is right to move it [Coliseum closure] forward at this point in time because it does cloud up things if there’s too many things left on the table as possibilities.”

READ MORE: Northlands looks ahead as Coliseum doors close in Edmonton 

Finley expressed the community’s frustration to be more involved in the decision making because it doesn’t just want to be presented with a final plan.

“We’re not totally trusting of it,” he told the councillors as city staff presented a year-and-a-half consultation and planning process for the remaining Northlands campus south of 118 Avenue.

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“We’re confused. What is this? What are we focusing on? We hope it’s the larger area but we want to be assured of that. So we want more active and direct involvement, we want to be in it early, we want to be influential.”

Finley later told reporters how a lot of people became frustrated because they were asked to comment on the Northlands’ Vision 2020 plans, only to later find out they weren’t going ahead.

He said Bellevue residents would like to see the Northlands Park racetrack, grandstand and horse barns removed as soon as possible after this year’s racing season, so planners can work with a vacant site.

“It’s going to be much harder to protect than the Coliseum is. The urgency is to probably get that down right away so we can at least see the site. We’re not putting a track there, that’s for sure.”

READ MORE: Mayor Iveson wants options for Northlands Coliseum once it’s closed

Coun. Tony Caterina asked questions about using the parking lot around the Coliseum for some events in 2018, and was told they were being explored by city staff. Options include showing drive-in movies, or a staging area to train emergency personnel in mock disasters.

Councillors were told by city staff that they’re still narrowing in on a true cost of Coliseum demolition that currently sits between $15 million and $25 million.

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Coun. Tim Cartmell told reporters keeping the old arena secure and maintaining the heat and the lights will cost $1.5 million a year.

He suggested that public consultation will look at a wide range of ideas including raising 118 Avenue to get rid of the underpass, or adding an interchange off Wayne Gretzky Drive.

In its current setup, the city is responsible for the Coliseum, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation runs the Expo Centre, and Northlands is in charge of the racetrack.

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