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Mandel begs province to support the downtown arena

Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.
Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. John Lucas/Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Mayor Stephen Mandel blasted the province’s lack of support for the downtown arena project Wednesday and insisted the government act within two weeks.

“The time has come for the provincial government to respect the decisions the city council has made and to support what we’re doing here, and stop with the politics,” he said.

“There are some right-wing MLAs there that don’t support anything … but this is about building our city. We have the bloody right to make those decisions.”

Edmonton needs to find $55 million to complete funding for the $480-million arena, projected to be the centrepiece of $2-billion worth of office towers, hotels, condos, shops and restaurants that will revive a stagnant section of downtown.

Mandel has insisted he had assurances from provincial officials that they would help finance the project, despite Premier Alison Redford’s repeated denials that the province intends to provide any direct money.

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But the issue is coming down to the wire. Councillors are scheduled to vote May 8 on a dozen “catalyst projects” to be funded from a community revitalization levy (CRL) that would use property taxes from downtown growth.

The proposal must be sent to the province for approval.

Mandel said he hopes to have a positive answer by then, but wouldn’t say what will happen if he doesn’t.

“This is a plea to the province to once and for all come forward and support this city in what we need to do,” he said after council had discussed the catalyst list.

“We do deliver all the goods for this region, and this is the time for them to say ‘Yes’ to the City of Edmonton.”

Planners indicated more than half the land is vacant or underused within the CRL, made up of parts of downtown between 97th Street to 109th Street and 100th Avenue to 106th Avenue.

The arena, land and surrounding infrastructure would take $139 million out of the $459 million in property taxes the revitalization levy is expected to produce over 20 years.

Other initial projects include overhauling Jasper Avenue, new sewers, a small park on 105th Street at 102nd Avenue and a walkway along the top of the river valley below the Macdonald and Marriott hotels.

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The longer term will focus on a $12,000 incentive for each of 1,000 new units built in the warehouse district, a $46-million park in the area, more sewers and $62 million for bikeways, signs and other streetscape improvements.

But Coun. Jane Batty warned this funding is unlikely to materialize unless the arena is built to stimulate development.

“Whatever the result of May 8 may or may not impact the plan we have.”

Coun. Amarjeet Sohi cited city calculations that construction of the arena alone would produce $63 million in federal taxes and $36 million for the province.

But he was concerned some work related to the project won’t be done locally.

The Journal reported Wednesday a Quebec company had the lowest bid for a key steel supply contract and is expected to be the winner if the arena goes ahead.

Sohi won unanimous support for a motion to look at the impacts of using local contractors and whether such a move is even possible, although city manager Simon Farbrother explained provincial law outlines how tenders must be done.

“I would be deeply concerned using local taxpayer dollars and local resources to drive growth somewhere else,” Sohi said.

“It’s helping your local economy drive more economic growth and more activity.”

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