Housing group will keep pitching Edmonton Coliseum idea even if city isn’t catching

An image of the proposed Agora Borealis project to redevelop the Coliseum area .
An image of the proposed Agora Borealis project to redevelop the Coliseum area . Supplied by Agora Borealis

For the Agora Borealis group, nothing good came out of Tuesday afternoon’s session of Edmonton City Council’s urban planning committee.

The committee voted to keep going on the overall plans for the demolition of the Coliseum, and the area redevelopment plan for the entire 160-acre Exhibition Lands.

But nothing bad happened either. The three proponents of turning the 400,000-square foot, 40-year-old building into an atrium, surrounded by seniors’ and student housing as part of a larger community development plan, said they’ll keep trying to gain support to one day convince city council to reverse the March vote that saw them opt to have the Coliseum demolished.

Haydar Al Dahhan, Ben Gardner and Mike Butler at Edmonton City Hall on June 19, 2018.
Haydar Al Dahhan, Ben Gardner and Mike Butler at Edmonton City Hall on June 19, 2018. Scott Johnston/ Global News

“To us, it’s more about common sense,” architect Ben Gardner said. “Fifteen- to twenty-million dollars is a lot of money to bury in a hole in the ground, so we should take another look at it.”

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READ MORE: Group proposes turning Edmonton Coliseum into housing development

Watch below: On May 8, 2018, Kim Smith files this report about a group of architects, engineers and developers submitting a plan to turn the Coliseum and Exhibition Lands into a housing development.

Plan sees Edmonton Coliseum transformed into housing
Plan sees Edmonton Coliseum transformed into housing

Mike Butler, who is handling government relations for the team, remains confident one of the city councillors who voted no to keeping the Coliseum standing will reintroduce the motion for reconsideration.

“The vote was very close,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It was 6-7 and we have councillors that had voted against it previously that are very interested in looking at our proposal. So it’s a matter of sharing the ideas and listening and connecting and giving everyone time to look at the information and take the next steps.”

“We voted to permanently close the Coliseum, which in my mind, leads to the question of demolition,” said Councillor Michael Walters, who chairs the committee. “Dancing around, pretending that there’s some future for that place, frankly, is wasting people’s time.

“I think the truth is we are talking about a fairy tale here, and we need to get on with reality, and the reality in front of us now is the plan for that area that we’re working closely with the surrounding communities to create.”

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Councillor Tony Caterina asked if there were legal reasons more couldn’t be said in public on uses for the building, but was told the committee would have to meet in private to hear the answers. Walters said later that when the city looked at converting the building to a six-plex for the benefit of Hockey Canada, the costs were prohibitive.

The committee was told that the Agora Borealis group has met with the federal infrastructure minister, Amarjeet Sohi, who directed them back to city council. They’ve also met with the Katz Group but can’t get any commitments in writing.

“It’s all kind of going cyclical,” Butler said. “It’s one person deferring to the next person and no decisions are being made so processes like this and public support for the project will definitely move the ball forward on redevelopment of the area.”

Those who advocate for adding onto the Coliseum to make it 500,000 square feet of housing want a legal opinion on whether permanent closure equates to not using the building for any purpose.

“We don’t own the property. We cannot engage in negotiations with any interested party,” Gardner said. “We can provide some momentum but at this point, we need the city to start engagement.”

Gardner pegs the value of the building itself at between $120 million to $140 million.

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Next steps are an open house on Thursday to provide an update on the land, where 104 responses to a “request for expressions of interest” on how the 160 acres of Exhibition Lands can be redeveloped.

In the fall, city council will get a report from staff, scoping potential demolition costs.