Signs herald Edmonton arena district development

EDMONTON – New signs at the site of Edmonton’s new downtown arena went up Monday, as officials celebrated the development of the arena district.

“Hopefully people appreciate what is going to be here,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “It’s going to be very special.”

“It’s just another great indication – a real hard indication – of what’s happening, how exciting it is, and how real it is,” added Edmonton Oilers President Patrick Laforge.

Politicians and small business owners say the city’s downtown has already started to see a revitalization spurred on by the promise of the new arena.

“All this is going to make a big change to what our city is going to look like,” said Mandel. “These high rise condos being built are directly a result of the arena.”

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“You need catalysts. You need to create that kind of environment. This is one of those catalyst projects.”

“It’s been a catalyst for two years,” explained Jim Taylor, with the Downtown Business Association. “The guy that bought the Mercer building bought it in November 2011 because he believed an arena was coming across the street.”

Even before city council signed off on the project, businesses were investing in the downtown with the expectation the arena would soon be built.  Now, they are pleased to see the signs signaling the next step in development.

“I would say this is definitely more than just a sign,” said Roast owner, Matt Hall.

“This really is the idea that all the investment we’re making in the downtown is coming to fruition.”

“This is the sign that the times downtown are changing,” he added. “We’ve already seen some transformation but it’s just going to get accelerated over the years.”

Taylor says he’s not surprised the project would get to this point.

“What I’ve been saying most is ‘I told you so,’” Taylor chuckles, “because I’ve never doubted that we were going to build an arena downtown.”

He adds Edmonton’s downtown is entering a new stage.

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“The next six to eight years there’s going to be so much construction downtown that we’re going to have to be proactive and keep ahead of this and remind people that cranes and hoarding and that sort of thing is good news.”

“You know we’re going to hear about new buildings being built in the next very short while. These are exciting times for the downtown,” Taylor said.

However, the arena project still has to clear a hurdle. A guaranteed maximum price must be reached and approved by the city.

“Until we get the final price in to make sure it’s in line – which is coming along really well from what I understand – no one knows what the future holds, but I’m very optimistic,” admitted Mandel.

Both the mayor and LaForge say those details should not prove problematic.

“That’s all full court press to get us to a time when we can get the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) brought back to the city. Most people believe that can be around Christmas sometime,” said LaForge.

“That being said, PCL is very convinced – and so is the architect – that with that kind of timing, we can get digging, and building, and opening in the fall of 2016, so, perfect, just perfect.”

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Many say the benefits to the downtown core are already evident.

“I would say there’s excitement,” said Hall. “Every day you come down and see visible signs of what’s happening.”

Construction on the arena is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2014.

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